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The History of the Future of Education Technology

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    Part 4 of my Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2013 series

    Beware of the Cow

    Barely a week has gone by this year without some MOOC-related news. Much like last year, massive open online courses have dominated ed-tech conversations.

    But if 2012 was, as The New York Times decreed, the year of the MOOC, 2013 might be described as the year of the anti-MOOC as we slid down that Gartner Hype Cycle from the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” and into the “Trough of Disillusionment.” For what it’s worth, Gartner pegged MOOCs at the peak back in July, while the Horizon Report says they’re still on the horizon. Nevertheless the head of edX appeared on the Colbert Report this year, and the word “MOOC” entered the Oxford Online Dictionary – so whether you think those are indications of peak or trough or both or neither, it seems the idea of free online university education has hit the mainstream.

    MOOCs: An Abbreviated History

    To recap: in 2008, Dave Cormier coins the term “MOOC” to describe George Siemens’ and Stephen Downes’ course “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge.” In the Fall of 2011, Stanford offers open enrollment in online versions of three engineering classes: Artificial Intelligence (taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig), Machine Learning (taught by Andrew Ng), and Databases (taught by Jennifer Widom). In December 2011, MIT unveil MITx. In January 2012, Thrun announces he’s leaving Stanford to launch Udacity. In April 2012, Ng, along with Stanford colleague Daphne Koller, launch Coursera. In May 2012, Harvard and MIT team up for edX. In December 2012, 12 British universities partner to launch their MOOC platform, FutureLearn. And in 2013…

    January

    Thomas Friedman declares that “revolution” – the MOOC revolution, that is – has hit the universities.

    Coursera launches Signature Track, its plans to verify students’ identities so that it can confidently award “certifiable course records” (for a fee).

    San Jose State University forms a partnership with Udacity to offer 3 online classes for credit.

    February

    FutureLearnexpands its membership to include the universities of Bath, Leicester, Nottingham, Queen’s Belfast and Reading, along with the British Library.

    edXexpands to include The Australian National University, Delft University of Technology, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, McGill University, the University of Toronto, and Rice University.

    Coursera added more university-partners: California Institute of the Arts, Case Western Reserve University, Curtis Institute of Music, Northwestern University, Penn State University, Rutgers University, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, UC Boulder, University of Rochester, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, University of Wisconsin Madison, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Ecole Polytechnique, IE Business School, Leiden University, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Muenchen, Sapienza University of Rome, Technical University Munich, Technical University of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, University of Geneva, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, National Taiwan University, National University of Singapore, and University of Tokyo.

    March

    Legislation is introduced in the California Senate (SB 520) that would require the state’s public colleges and universities to accept credit for certain online classes if a student is unable to get into the class on-campus, a move that would be a boon to MOOC providers.

    Open Universities Australia, an online education organization, announces the launch of an Australian MOOC platform called Open2Study. Participating universities include Macquarie University, RMIT University and the Central Institute of Technology.

    April

    Udacityexpands its partnership with San Jose State University, with 5 for-credit classes to be offered over the summer term: Intro to Programming, Intro to Psychology, Elementary Statistics, College Algebra, and Entry-level Math. The classes cost $150 and will offer transferable college credit.

    Another Stanford-based MOOC initiative, NovoEd launches to offer a “team-based, collaborative, and project-based approach” that “helps learners foster the core competencies of leadership, collaboration, and communication.”

    Universities from 11 European countries join forces to launch the MOOC initiative OpenupEd which says it will offer 40 classes, taught in 12 different languages. (Ironically, there was a technical glitch at the opening event and video recording of the announcement was lost.)

    May

    Courseralaunches a set of professional development courses for K–12 teachers.

    Coursera, textbook publishers, and Chegg team up to give students access to DRM’d digital course materials for some Coursera classes.

    Udacity, Georgia Tech, and AT&T partner to offer an online Master’s Degree in Computer Science (cost: $7000).

    Yale joinsCoursera.

    edX adds 15 new members to its consortium, including Tsinghua University, Peking University, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Kyoto University, Seoul National University, Cornell University, Berklee College of Music, Boston University, Davidson College, University of Washington, Karolinska Institutet, Université catholique de Louvain, the Technical University of Munich, and the University of Queensland.

    Courserasigns a series of deals with 9 state university systems: the State University of New York, the University of Tennessee system, The Tennessee Board of Regents, the University of Colorado system, the University of Houston system, the University of Kentucky (The Chronicle of Higher Education has a copy of this contract), the University of Nebraska, the University of New Mexico, the University System of Georgia, and West Virginia University.

    June

    edX releases the code for its learning platform under an open source license, noting contributions from Stanford, UC Berkeley, and the University of Queensland.

    Former Zynga COO Vish Makhijami takes over that role at Udacity.

    World Wide Ed declares its plans this week to be an “online, open education platform dedicated to increasing access to learning for Canadians and other global citizens.”

    NovoEd unveils what it calls the “first team-based MOOC in Spanish”: “Evaluación de Decisiones Estratégicas” taught by Catholic University of Chile professor Patricio del Sol.

    Australia’s Monash University, Ireland’s Trinity College and the University of Edinburgh joinFutureLearn.

    Tiffin University in Ohio says it will be teaming up with Altius Education to offer a 3-credit MOOC for $50. Then just one day later, the university says that the deal is off “due to concerns over accreditation.”

    The University of Chicago, Technion-Israel Institute, and Tel Aviv University join Coursera.

    edXpartners with the IMF to offer the latter’s training coursers in macroeconomics and finance via its MOOC platform. IIT Bombay also joinsedX.

    July

    Coursera announces that it’s raised another round of funding: $43 million from the International Finance Corporation (the investment arm of the World Bank), Laureate Education (a for-profit education company formerly known as Sylvan Learning), GSV Capital, Learn Capital (of which Pearson is its largest limited partner) and Yuri Milner, Russian tycoon (formerly with the World Bank).

    Citing the poor performance of enrolled students, San Jose State says it’s putting on “pause” its pilot program with Udacity.

    7 Indian Institutes of Technology and a number of IT firms, including Infosys and Cognizant, say they plan to team up to offer MOOCs.

    August

    SB 520 fails to move forward through the California legislature.

    Courseraannounces that it’s struck partnership deals with the University of New South Wales, University of Western Australia, University of Zurich, and the University of Alberta.

    President Obama unveils his plans to help make college more affordable. Among the experimentations his administration is interested in: MOOCs.

    Coursera names Lila Ibrahim, a venture capitalist from the startup’s lead investor, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byer, as its first President.

    September

    UC Irvine says it will offer a MOOC in conjunction with the fourth season of its popular zombie show The Walking Dead. The MOOC, which will run on Instructure’s Canvas platform, involves several professors from different departments and will include topics on math, head-severing, and public health.

    Timed with an appearance on stage at Techcrunch Disrupt by Sebastian Thrun and California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Udacity announces the Open Education Alliance, a partnership with several tech companies.

    Google "joins the “open edX platform.”

    Coursera reveals it’s earned $1 million in revenue from its Signature Track courses.

    Peking University and Nanyang Technological University join Coursera.

    edX launches a new program, “the XSeries,” that will offer certificates for students who complete a sequence of classes offered on its MOOC platform. The program starts with two series: Foundations of Computer Science and Supply Chain and Logistics Management. These new certificates will require an ID verification program, newly launched from edX too.

    FutureLearn officially opens its doors, with 20 upcoming classes on the schedule. There was a bit of furor online about FutureLearn’s Terms of Service, which included an “English-only” provision that, thankfully, were amended (because we don’t want to be too overt about the imperialist thrust of MOOCs, right?)

    CalTech joinsedX.

    A Star MOOC Professor Defects.” Mitchell Duneier, a sociologist at Princeton, described by The Chronicle of Higher Education as a “conscientious objector,” says he’ll no longer offer classes via Coursera. Duneier pulled out after Coursera approached him to license his content so that other colleges could use it. “I’ve said no, because I think that it’s an excuse for state legislatures to cut funding to state universities.”

    October

    The French Ministry of Higher Education says it’s adopting edX’s open source platform to build a “national portal for MOOCs.”

    But I guess a couple of institutions in France didn’t get the “open source portal” memo as École Normale Supérieure and HEC Paris joinCoursera.

    The Brazilian online education company Veduca launches what it calls the “world’s first open online MBA.” The online video classes are free, but those wanting a certificate will have to pay a fee and take their exams in-person.

    Courserapartners with a Chinese Internet company to allow its customers access to Coursera courses.)

    edX says its open source platform will be adopted by a consortium of Chinese universities.

    The German online education startup iversitylaunches its first MOOC classes.

    Ecole Centrale Paris, The Copenhagen Business School, Eindhoven University of Technology, Koç University, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, IESE Business School, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, National Geographic Society, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Saint Petersburg State University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Università Bocconi, University of Lausanne, University of Manchester joinCoursera. Coursera also partners with the World Bank.

    Coursera launches “learning hubs,” physical spaces where people can access the Internet in order to take a MOOC. Partners in the effort include the US State Department, the Bluebells School International and Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Digital October, Overcoming Faith Academy Kenya, Learning Links Foundation, TAPtheTECH, and LEARN. TT and the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

    November

    Courserahires former Netflix-ers John Ciancutti and Tom Willerer as its Chief Product Officer and VP of Product Management. The two were involved in developing Netflix’s movie recommendation system.

    Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan announces the launch of Edraak, an Arabic language MOOC portal build on the edX platform.

    Udacitylaunches a “Data Science and Big Data Track,” partnering with Hadoop provider Cloudera for the curriculum.

    In a Fast Company profileUdacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun reveals the company is pivoting away from higher ed disruption towards corporate-sponsored tech training.

    Carnegie Mellon University creates a Global Learning Council to “spearhead efforts to develop standards and promote best practices in online education.” Council members include edX’s Anant Agarwal and Coursera’s Daphne Koller.

    Courseraannounces that it has raised another $20 million in investment. This brings to $63 million the Series B funding that the company raised in July (and $85 million total). Part of this cash influx comes from three unnamed universities.

    December

    TBD

    TL;DR

    MOOCs expanded greatly in 2013 – expanded their partner institutions, expanded their course offerings, expanded their investment dollars, grew the number of students enrolled, and so on. But there were lots of questions along the way: who’s succeeding in MOOCs; how will MOOCs make money; how will MOOCs affect higher education; and how will MOOCs affect open education?

    MOOCs and Shared Governance (Or The Lack Thereof)

    The MOOC movement did not march forward in 2013 without a fair amount of faculty and institutional challenges.

    The faculty at Amherst, for example, voted down a proposal to join edX in April. Professors said they were “underwhelmed by the tools edX currently offered, that edX seemed too new and unreliable a program, that there were better things to spend money on and that the requirement to offer certificates, either immediately or after the first time the course is offered, was against the College’s interests.” And in May, the administration at American University issued a “moratorium on MOOCs,” saying it was “purposely avoiding experimentation before it decides exactly how it wants to relate to the new breed of online courses.”

    But many institutions did move forward with deals with MOOC providers, even when faculty objected. The result: several well-publicized “open letters” and op-eds that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, campus newsletters, blogs, and the like over the course of the year: an open letter from the faculty association at San Jose State about the university’s deals with MOOC providers; an open letter from the San Jose State philosophy department to Harvard professor Michael Sandel (whose JusticeX course was set to be piloted at SJSU); an open letter from the Council of UC Faculty Association to Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller; 58 Harvard professors signed a letter to Dean Michael Smith asking for more oversight of edX. The thrust of many of these: faculty demanding shared governance and a larger role in decision-making about these ed-tech deals, as well as articulating their concerns that outsourcing classes to MOOC providers would encourage privatization, undermine faculty IP, and degrade students’ university experience.

    Some of faculty's worst fears were probably confirmed by the work of Inside Higher Ed’s Ry Rivard, who did a lot of excellent investigative journalism this year, uncovering many of the contracts that MOOC providers had struck with universities. In March, he wrote about Coursera’s “contractual elitism” – that is, contracts that stipulated that Coursera would only partner with “elite institutions” (members of the Association of American Universities or “top five” universities in countries outside of North America). In May, Rivard wrote about the “fine print” of the deal between Udacity and Georgia Tech to create its online CS Master’s Degree, highlighting its rush to sign a deal and its plans to meet the demands of MOOC students without hiring more tenured faculty. In July, Rivard noted that at least 21 universities had signed deals with MOOC providers without going through a competitive bidding process.

    In an overview of these days between MOOC providers and universities (Udacity in particular), UC Santa Barbara professor Christopher Newfield argued, “…Though we shouldn’t expect a company CEO to protect the public interest, we can and should expect it of public officials. After 18 months of MOOC-promises of a cost revolution, the public discussion of MOOC budgetary detail boils down to one intrepid reporter, Ry Rivard, who got the spreadsheets through a public records act request, one professor who spent hours thinking about them, and one company executive who replied.”

    MOOCs, A “Lousy Product”

    "We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product,” Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun told Fast Company in November. “It was a painful moment.”

    Sadly, 2013 gave us lots of painful moments with lousy MOOC products.

    In February, the Coursera/Georgia Tech course “Fundamentals of Online Education” was cancelled, with everyone booted from the course (meaning students lost all their online contributions), following a lot of technical and pedagogicalhiccups. The cancellation was a move described by MOOC pioneer George Siemens as “negating the learner in the learning process”: “This incident is significant. MOOCs are nothing without learners. In this instance, it looks like the instructor decided to shut down the course. Faculty own the content, Coursera owns the platform. But neither should own the conversation. That belongs to the learners. The difficultly is that many learners interact in Coursera forums. Learners should own their own spaces.”

    Then, just one week later, UC Irvine professor Richard McKenzie left his Coursera-run economics MOOC mid-stream “because of disagreements over how to best conduct this course." The course continued without him.

    In July, Michigan professor Gautam Kaul caused waves with his Coursera-run finance class by refusing to give students the correct answers to assignments: “If this were a one-time class, we would have considered posting answers,“ he told students in an email. ”It will however be very difficult for us to offer this class again if we have to keep preparing new sets of questions with multiple versions to allow you to attempt each one more than once. Handing out answers will force us to do that.”

    In September, Georgia Institute of Technology professor Karen Head wrapped up her Chronicle series blogging about the “First-Year Composition 2.0” MOOC she taught on the Coursera platform, with a look at what was “successful” and not about the course. An excerpt:

    “I don’t think any of us (writing and communication instructors) would rush to teach another MOOC soon. For now, the technology is lacking for courses in subject areas like writing, which have such strong qualitative evaluation requirements. Too often we found our pedagogical choices hindered by the course-delivery platform we were required to use, when we felt that the platform should serve the pedagogical requirements. Too many decisions about platform functionality seem to be arbitrary, or made by people who may be excellent programmers but, I suspect, have never been teachers.”

    While there were lots of concerns about the quality of MOOCs (and, to be fair, there was praise about MOOCs too), it was the failure of the Udacity-run courses at San Jose State that made the most headlines (and is in turn mostly likely to shape the future course of MOOCs, I'd predict).

    In January, the two organizations announced a pilot program where the latter would offer college credits for classes offered by the former. Techcrunch, with its typical hyperbolic flair, said it would “end college as we know it.” But in July, SJSU put the program on pause, citing the poor performance of enrolled students. “74 percent or more of the students in traditional classes passed, while no more than 51 percent of Udacity students passed any of the three courses."

    Despite the grim results, Sebastian Thrun told Information Week in August that the company had found the “magic formula” for success. Yet only a few months later, in an interview with Fast Company, Thrun revealed the company had pivoted to corporate training, suggesting perhaps that the “magic formula” was to move away from university education, notably away from the types of students at San Jose State. "These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives," Thrun said. "It's a group for which this medium is not a good fit."

    Wise words from Mike Caulfield: despite all the hype and rhetoric and press releases about pivots and progress about MOOCs, “sometimes failure is just a failure.”

    Who’s MOOCing Who?

    One of the ongoing concerns about the SJSU and Udacity pilot program – indeed, about many of the MOOC experiments – has been a lack of transparency about who was participating and who was succeeding and why.

    It continues to be mostly up to individual instructors (and sometimes their home institution) to publish information about demographics, success rates, and the like. In general, the MOOC platforms themselves have not been forthcoming with this information.

    Open University grad student Katy Jordan has tracked the completion rates across the various MOOC courses and platforms – those that make the data publicly available, that is. Her work confirms the low rates of completion of MOOCs – most are less than 13%.

    Some have suggested that the completion rate isn’t the right measurement, particularly when it’s so easy to sign up. But Jordan's research raises other questions too: does robot-grading versus peer-grading make a difference in student completion? Does the subject matter or level make a difference? What about the educational attainment and subject matter expertise that students already bring to the table? Again, who is succeeding? Who is dropping out? Why?

    We started to get a better sense of how to answer these and other MOOC-related research questions, thanks to the institutions, organizations, and courses that released reports on their MOOCs this year: Duke University, HarvardX, P2PU, Stanford’s “Statistics in Medicine,” Vanderbilt, Georgia Institute of Technology’s Computational Investing, University of Edinburgh, University of Toronto, MITx’s Circuits and Electronics, and the University of Pennsylvania.

    The takeaway (in part. In terms of demographics at least): those enrolled in and succeeding in MOOCs are overwhelmingly male and already have Bachelor’s Degrees. They’re likely to be taught by men as well.

    If you’re looking for a visual depiction of MOOC participation – by students and by institutions – you can find maps here, here, and here.

    And if you’re looking for survey results (good god, please take with a grain of salt): 50% of employers would not consider recruiting someone who had studied for their degree online. Professors who’ve taught MOOCs are optimistic about MOOCs. Less than 10% of universities say they’re planning on offering MOOCs. Few professors think that students who complete MOOCs should be awarded credit. 2% of university presidents think that MOOCs will solve their institutions’ financial woes. And after all those Thomas Friedman and David Brooks op-eds, just 22% of the public say they’ve heard of MOOCs.

    Of course, none of this data was enough to give Bill Gates pause. Speaking at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit earlier this year, he said that MOOC providers should learn some lessons from the for-profit college sector in order to better support students’ success. “Because they are profit driven, the way they track students and see what’s going on” could be seen by MOOCs and public universities as a ‘best practice.’" Ugh.

    Thankfully, his Gates Foundation is funding actual research into MOOCs, with an initiative led by George Siemens. I’m thankful too that Justin Reich, a Berkman Center fellow and someone who helps keep my ed-tech snark and statistical dumbassery in check is now a HarvardX Research Fellow. Stay tuned for more there…

    MOOCs for Credit

    As the cost of college continued to grow, so too did the search for cheaper alternatives. MOOCs have been showcased as one such option, despite the realization by many faculty members and instructional designers creating MOOCs that the development and maintenance costs are actually quite high.

    Arguably for MOOCs to be accepted – not just as nice thing for curious learners who already have degrees – they have to be available for credit. There was significant movement to that end this year.

    Both Udacity and Coursera had courses approved for ACE credits (although interestingly, two universities that offer the ACE-approved Coursera MOOCs – Duke and UC Irvine– said they will not allow their students to use these MOOCs for credit). In August, The University of Maryland University College said it would be the first university to offer transfer credits to its students who complete MOOCs (or more precisely, who “demonstrate learning” from 3 Udacity or 3 Coursera courses, the ones that had been approved for ACE credit). The University of São Paulo said it would offer credit for two MOOCs offered via the Brazilian MOOC platform Verduca – Basic Physics and Probability & Statistics. MOOC2Degree, a program run by Academic Partnerships, said it would forge deals with its client universities (including the University of Arkansas system, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing, the University of West Florida, and Cleveland State, Florida International, Lamar, and Utah State Universities) to offer MOOCs for credit. MITx said that it would offer continuing education units for its “Mechanics ReView” series through a collaboration with the American Association of Physics Teachers. Florida governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill that would encourage schools in his state to use MOOCs for credit. (I believe accreditation is one of the big ed-tech trends of the year. More on that in a subsequent post in this series.)

    Other than the troubled experiment with Udacity and San Jose State University, the highest profile “MOOC for credit” deal was that struck between Udacity, Georgia Tech, and AT&T to offer a computer science master’s degree. The degree will cost students less than $7000 (significantly cheaper than the MS that the university currently offers – cheaper in part because of the financial support for the program from AT&T). Early signs are that there’s a high demand for the online program (not surprisingly, higher than the applications for the more expensive, on-campus version.)

    But not all MOOCs for credit have been warmly received by students. Not a single student at Colorado State University-Global Campus signed up for MOOC-for-credit this year, for example. (Students there could pay $89 for a proctored exam, “compared with the $1,050 that Colorado State charges for a comparable three-credit course.”)

    But hey. You can always simply show off your MOOC certificates on LinkedIn. No course fee required; just your personal data is all you need to hand over – sorta like you already do in these free MOOCs, eh.

    But How Will MOOCs Make Money?

    “For credit” does seem to hint at one possible revenue stream for MOOCs. But for the most part, these online courses remain free. And after raising millions and millions and millions of dollars in investment, many people started asking this year how the hell MOOCs will ever make money.

    There are some hints. Udacity, for example, will take a 40% of the revenues from the deal it struck with Georgia Tech and AT&T to offer an online master’s degree in computer science. Udacity is also offering more and more corporate training courses – efforts subsidized by major technology companies in course creation, enrollment, and recruitment.

    edX, which is a non-profit but still needs to find a path to some sort of financial sustainability – will, according to The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer try the ol’ “Red Hat for Linux approach,” charging for services to help others implement an open source infrastructure and/or blended learning courses. edX has also struck deals with institutions and will offer some sort of revenue-sharing model if they charge money for courses or certificates along the way. A hint at what that will look like: MITx unveiled“XSeries” certificates in aeronautics, computer science, and supply chain management. While the courses remain freely available for anyone, a certificate will cost students $50-$100.

    The latter echoes what we know so far of Coursera’s business plan: its Signature Track, whereby students pay a fee for an official certificate for a successfully completed MOOC. In September, Coursera said it had earned $1 million in revenue from the Signature Track courses (noting, incidentally, that “over 70% of students earning them already have a bachelor’s degree or higher.”) There are hints too that Coursera might, like Udacity, pursue the corporate training route. But there are still lots of questions about whether or not the Signature Track (and swag store) can generate enough of a profit for Coursera and its investors. When Coursera announced its massive fundraising this summer, founder Koller said“We hope it’s enough money to get us to profitability. We haven’t really focused yet on when that might be." Higher Education Strategy Associates’ Alex Usher, speculated recently that Coursera is burning through its funding at such a rapid rate that it only has “maybe 15 months before the VCs pull the plug.” Of course, shortly afterward, Coursera announced it had raised $20 million more. So adjust your timeline accordingly.

    But alas, as in quite common in Silicon Valley, the revenue model for ed-tech does often involve simply raising more venture capital, particularly when part a hot new trend. Putting "MOOC" on a pitch deck probably helped this year. Gutenberg Technology raised $6.5 million, according to Edsurge, for digital textbooks with “MOOC features” for example. CreativeLIVE, which offers video-based online courses raised $8 million in March and another $21.5 million in November. Lots of education startups raised money this year for software on which instructors could offer online courses with videos and forums. Lots and lots of startups.

    If VC funding doesn’t work out, there’s always Kickstarter, product placement, or required in-course purchases. Of course, one of the long-running requirements for courses has been textbooks. And it seems like textbook publishers, well in advance of MOOC startups, have schemed ways to make money through these online courses.

    No doubt, we should probably ask too what universities’ business model will be in coming years, particularly as public funding and tuition dollars decline. Moody’s Investor Services said this year that offering MOOCs could boost a university’s credit ratings. But let’s take Moody’s with a grain of salt, shall we? After all, even the fabulously wealthy Harvard has opted to ask its alumni to donate their time as online mentors and discussion group facilitators on the edX platform. Times are tough all over, I guess.

    The MOOC Acronym Mutates

    It was already clear in 2012 that there was a huge difference between the original, Canadian, connectivist MOOCs and the venture-capital-backed ones out of Stanford and MIT. That distinction is sometimes known as cMOOCs versus xMOOCs.

    In 2013, we were introduced to a number of new acronyms as MOOCs developed in various directions: DOCC (distributed open collaborative course), BOOC (big open online course), MOOD (massive open online discussion), MOOA (massive open online administrations), SMOC (synchronous massive online course), SPOC (small private online courses), and MOOCoW (because someone had to do it).

    But in many cases, rather adopting than new acronyms or encouraging new permutations (including really interesting developments like the “distributed flip”), we saw instead appropriation of the term MOOC to mean any sort of online offering. So many MOOCs: Moodle.org said it was launching its first MOOC, Moodle for Teachers. “First,” that is, if you don’t count the very first MOOCs which were run on Moodle – but I guess those Canadian MOOCs don’t count. The German business software giant SAP launched its own MOOC platform — Open.SAP.com— to teach its employees about the company. (The student code includes the following priceless tidbit: “I will not make available solutions to weekly assignments and exams in any way to other learners on openSAP.” Because “Open.”) ISTE said it was running a MOOC. Well, it was a STEM conference, but marketed as a MOOC. Because it’s 2013. That’s what you do. Warren Buffet’s sister offered a the philanthropy MOOC which culminated in helping Buffett decide how to give away $100,000. Open your heart and your wallet. MOOC Campus said it would charge students $15,000 to live in a North Carolina YMCA while they take classes online. News Corp’s education wing Amplify said it was offering its AP computer science offering as a “MOOC Local,“ and while there’s currently a free trial, the course will eventually cost $200 per student per year. And Bruno Latour announced he was teaching a MOOC on the “Scientific humanities, ” as part of the new French MOOC platform called FUN (short for France Université Numérique). FUN, I tell you. FUN.

    In July, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that“Blackboard Announces New MOOC Platform,” although it wasn’t really clear how this would be different than its pre-existing CourseSites offering – other than in that ever-important branding, of course. And Desire2Learn said in October that it would offer "MOOCs within its integrated learning platform, redefining the MOOC model.” Redefining MOOCs indeed. MOOCs begane to look more and more like LMSes; and the LMSes wanted to look more like MOOCs. As if that weren’t enough, even Facebook announced this year that it sees itself as becoming a distribution vehicle for MOOCs.

    So if in doubt, I guess, just add a MOOC subdomain to your site, folks, to join those at mooc.amplify.com and mooc.khanacademy.org. Bonus points if you can hire a celebrity to teach a class.

    Inside Higher Ed blogger Josh Kim has written repeatedly over the last year or so about the conflation between MOOCs and online education, blasting pundits and journalists for using the wrong terminology. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult, I think, to separate these two, particularly as “MOOC” gets murkier. It’s difficult, I’d say, to write about MOOCs and anti-MOOCs in 2013 and not include updates about 2U and its Semester Online program (2U positions itself as a residential online alternative to MOOCs and it gained and lost several partners this year – a reflection, perhaps, of schools’ hopes and fears about ed-tech experimentation). It’s difficult to not talk about Pearson’s growing market-share among universities that looking to outsource their online courses. It’s difficult not to talk about the Minerva Project and its plans to “disrupt” the Ivy League with a cheap hybrid education offering. It’s difficult to only talk about MOOCs in their original connectivist format, to limit the discussion to those who fulfill the “massive” or the “open” aspects in the ur-MOOC way. To do so would miss much of the story.

    As such, it’s probably time to admit that MOOCs have lost their original meaning. That is a hard pill to swallow, particularly for those who care deeply about the meaning of that letter “O.” 

    Whither Open?

    We’ve seen, as Stephen Downes observed, “the great rebranding.”

    To say that the term “MOOC” has been severed from its open education roots does not mean that those building open online courses have contributed nothing this year. One need only look at the work of Alan Levine, Martin Hawksey, Tony Hirst, and many others, for example, to see that. A smart observation from Justin Reich earlier this year that speaks to the differing technologies built to serve differing educational theories: “MOOC Killer Apps: The Autograder vs. the Syndication Engine.”

    Nonetheless, as Bryan Alexander has observed from his speaking and consulting work with various institutions, schools want to talk about “MOOCs” and not about “open.”

    Sure, there have been some mainstream moves towards “openness.” edX released parts of its platform under an open license, for example, and says it will eventually open sources its LMS, its a course authoring tool, an API for integrating third-party learning objects, as well as its robot-essay-grading APIs. Google also joined what’s being called “open edX” and has released the code for its CourseBuilder MOOC platform. (That being said, it’s not exactly clear what Google’s role in open edX - see also MOOC.org - will be.)

    And that’s part of the problem, I think. “Open” is getting murkier, something I plan to examine in more detail in its own “ed-tech trends” article.

    But MOOCs – massive open online classes – are (along with Khan Academy I suppose) the best publicized open education effort. So what then do we make of decisions to use proprietary and DRM'd course materials? What do we make Terms of Service that are decidedly not open, as Lorna Campbell notes of FutureLearn’s? And failures to be “open” aren’t simply failures to be openly-licensed either. FutureLearn toyed, for a time, with an English-only provision. Who, exactly, are MOOCs “open” to?

    What do we make of edX and Coursera’s move into China? How will these MOOCs handle Internet censorship there and elsewhere?

    What about the Open Education Alliance which Udacity announced this summer, a move to partner with technology companies which despite its name has jack shit to do with “open education"?

    Again, what is “open”?

    The Past is Prelude

    I started this (too goddamned long) review on MOOCs by invoking the Gartner Hype Cycle. And a nod here is due to Rolin Moe who’s writing his dissertation on MOOCs and who’s been very clear that the Gartner Hype Cycle is the wrong tool and wrong framework to use to talk about ed-tech. Moe writes that,

    “If 2012 was The Year of the MOOC, one would expect 2013 to begin the MOOC’s path into trough of disillusionment. And to be fair, the MOOC has encountered more criticism from a wider array of thinkers and researchers since The Year of the MOOC. But the hype continues to soar. Education continues to be broken. MOOCs continue to focus on their model successes. And history’s biggest backer of education is maneuvering to make the MOOC more than a flash in the pan.”

    Indeed. Despite all the criticisms and all the skepticism and all the failures and all the back-tracking and all the protests and all the pivots, MOOCs march onward. Many schools and many states are exploring MOOCs for credit. Many people, including the President, see MOOCs as a way to reduce college costs. Many see MOOCs as an experiment – a big data experiment, natch – that will uncover all sorts of insights into how we learn.

    Despite the efforts of those of us who’d want to use more precise terminology, MOOCs and online education have been conflated. And online education doesn’t map neatly to Gartner’s Hype Cycle. We’ve been doing it for a long time now; and we are likely to continue doing so.

    Moreover, if we view MOOCs as just part of a Gartner Hype Cycle – whether we position 2013 at the peak or in the trough or somewhere in between – it means we’re likely collapsing the history of ed-tech into a nifty business school narrative that ignores much of the past in order to make a prediction about investments in the future. As Edsurge likes to say, "Kaching!"

    Where does I. A. Richards’ “Failed MOOC” of the 1950s fit in to this story?. How does David Noble’s 1998 book Digital Diploma Mills, which as David Wiley argued earlier this year, “reads as if it were researched and written about the current phenomenon called “MOOCs”?

    And so once again, 2013 may have been more about ed-tech “zombie ideas,” if you will, than hype cycles. And MOOCs, although they've had a monstrous year, are surely not dead yet.

    Image credits: Tony Bowden and The Noun Project


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    Here Comes the Judge!

    Education Law and Politics

    Michael McVey, a school superintendent in Steubenville, Ohio has been indicted on charges of obstructing justice and evidence-tampering for his role in the cover-up of the rape of a 16-year-old girl by two of football players.

    The Connecticut Attorney General released a report (PDF) on the Newtown school shootings that occurred in December of last year. While there are lots of details about the shooter, the report uncovered nothing to explain his motivations.

    Faith Christian Academy told 12-year-old Vanessa Van Dyke that she needed to either cut her hair or leave the school. The school initially said that Van Dyke’s “puffy” hair was a distraction, but after the story was picked up by numerous news organizations, the school backed away from its expulsion threats.

    It looks like New York governor Mario Cuomo is joining the growing list of politicians who are distancing themselves from the Common Core. (Mercedes Schneider counts 17 states experiencing Common Core “unrest.”)

    Solidarity Forever… Or Not

    After a lengthy legal battle, NYU has reached an agreement with graduate students, allowing them to vote to unionize. The Chronicle of Higher Education has more details.

    An email from UC Berkeley professor Alexander Coward went viral last week (after it was heavily promoted by the university, it’s worth noting). In it Coward told undergraduates that he planned to cover classes that would otherwise be cancelled as graduate students were taking part in a sympathy strike alongside the service workers’ union. More via In These Times.

    Upgrades and Downgrades

    Creative Commons has unveiled version 4.0 of its licenses. The CC “chooser” that helps people pick the appropriate license is available here.

    Chicago Public Schools have opted not to use inBloom at its data storehouse. This makes New York the only state still moving forward with the non-profit.

    More problems for LAUSD’s iPad rollout as it appears the software licenses that come with the machines expire after 3 years. Renewing these could cost between $50 to $100 per iPad – about $60 million. (I cannot understand how no one noticed this ’til now. Nobody really does read those Apple Terms of Service, do they?!)

    The principal of Mountrath Community College is calling the school’s tablet adoption and move “from book to e-book” “an unmitigated disaster.” The school has had technical issues with the majority of the HP Elite Pad tablets families were asked to purchase.

    The online for-profit Strayer University is slashing its tuition by as much as 40% and is laying off 20% of its workforce in order to stem losses stemming from declining enrollment.

    MOOCs

    Those who’ve enrolled in Coursera-run classes taught by Wesleyan faculty found themselves on the receiving end of emails asking them to donate to the university’s fund in order to support its efforts to offer more Coursera courses.

    Inside Higher Ed’s Carl Straumsheim examines a report by MIT that discusses the university’s plans for the future. A key part of its strategy: edX.

    Funding and Acquisitions

    Edsurge reports that Pearson is selling its financial news service Mergermarket to a private equity firm so that it can focus on its plans for world domination global education.

    Moonfrye, an art app for kids from a startup founded by Soleil Moon Frye (best known as the actress who played Punky Brewster) has raised another $1.1 million in funding, reports PandoDaily.

    Baltimore-based startup An Estuarytweeted this week that it’s raised $100,000 investment from MDTEDCO.

    From the HR Department

    David Hanson, Virginia Commonwealth University’s chief operating officer, will be leaving the university at the end of the year to become the chief financial officer for Phillips Exeter Academy.

    “Research” and Data

    The Wall Street Journal covers a study by Moody’s Investors Service which finds that “nearly half of the nation’s colleges and universities are no longer generating enough tuition revenue to keep pace with inflation.” Phil Hill and Bryan Alexander respond.

    And in other Moody’s-related news, “a growing number of Michigan school districts face higher borrowing costs after downgrades this year by Moody’s Investors Service.” Since January, it has downgraded the credit ratings of 53 districts in the state.

    Cue the STEM shortage panic! “About half of bachelor’s degree candidates in science, technology, engineering and math leave the field before completing a college degree, according to a report from the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics,” writes Inside Higher Ed, which then adds that “That might seem high, but it roughly tracks the rate at which students in other majors – like humanities, education and health sciences – switched majors or dropped out of college, too, the study found.”

    Maricopa Community Collegesaid that it was in the process of notifying some 2.5 million students, employers, and suppliers that their personal data might have been compromised and exposed to “unauthorized viewers.” This includes birth dates, Social Security numbers, and bank account info.

    Valleywag’s Sam Biddle attempts to raise some red flags about the “iffy fine print” in the agreements that schools are signing with Code.org, including collecting students’ achievement data for the preceding 4 to 6 years as part of a longitudinal study. The contract also requires teachers to agree to 2 years participating in the project (which includes professional development and a proprietary curriculum that teachers aren’t supposed to deviate from).

    Image credits: Andrea Westmoreland and The Noun Project


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    Part 5 of my Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2013 Series

    Robot on the Taff

    In memory of Jeffrey McManus, founder of CodeLesson and friend

    As with all of the trends I’m covering in my year-end review, neither the “Learn to Code” nor the “Maker Movement” are new. I’ll say it again: read Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms, published in 1980.

    Last year, I wrote about “Learning to Code” and “The Maker Movement” in two separate trends post. This year, I’m combining the two. This decision shouldn’t be seen as an indication that interest in either has diminished. To the contrary.

    There’s certainly been a surge this year in the number of organizations, companies, and initiatives trying to stir up and serve that interest. An abbreviated list of those in the news this year: Mozilla (which has continued to expand its Web literacy efforts, developing standards to help conceptualize and promote a better understanding of the Web); littleBits (which I chose as one of my favorite ed-tech startups in 2011 and which raised $11 million in investment this year); Raspberry Pi (another one of my favorite startups from 2011 which was used in a number of interesting projects and partnerships and which recently announced it has sold 2 million units); the Imagine Cup (Microsoft’s college-level programming competition, which expanded to younger students); Starter League (formerly known as Code Academy, which partnered with the Chicago Public Schools in order to teach teachers Web development); Thinkful (a tutoring startup for those learning programming); CodeHS (which won the Innovation Challenge at NBC’s Education Nation event); Robot Turtles (a board game which ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25K and ended up with over $600K); Goldieblox (which made a viral, then controversial, video; Codelearn (which raised $150,000); Skillshare (which offers a variety of classes, not just programming ones – offline and now online – and raised $1 million in funding); CodeNow (a non-profit that offers tech education to high school students and which expanded to the Bay Area this year); Hopscotch (a visual programming language for iPad); Treehouse (which raised $7 million in a Series B round); Hakitzu (an iOS game that teaches Javascript); Tynker (which raised $3.25 million); Bitmaker Labs (which had a nice write-up in the Globe and Mail, prompting an investigation by the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, which then led the startup to briefly shut down); Black Girls Code (which expanded its program to new cities); Lego Mindstorms (which launched its latest version and which I still need to review); Tinkercad (which was rescued from closure by getting acquired by Autodesk); play-i (learn-to-code robots created by former Google and Apple engineers); Hacker Scouts (which had to change its name because the Boy Scouts of America sent them a cease-and-desist letter); Caine’s Arcade (which has encouraged a lot of cardboard-based building and will continue to do so even though Caine himself “retired”); Codecademy (which launched to a lot of learn-to-code hoopla, but was fairly quiet this year save an appearance on the Colbert Report); MOOCs galore; MakerBot (which was acquired by Stratasys and launched MakerBot Academy with “a mission to put a MakerBot Desktop 3D Printer in every school in the United States of America”); MAKE (which spun out of O’Reilly Media in January and at the White House Science Fair announced the MakerCorps, a program which helps build out a network of youth maker mentors across 19 states and 34 host sites); and of course MIT’s Scratch (still among the very best ways to introduce kids to programming and which launched version 2.0– a web-based version – in 2013).

    CS in Schools

    Despite the proliferation of these learn-to-code efforts, computer science is still not taught in the vast majority of K–12 schools, making home, college, after-school programs, and/or libraries places where students are more likely to be first exposed to the field.

    There are many barriers to expanding CS education, least of which is that the curriculum is already pretty damn full. If we add more computer science, do we cut something else out? Or is CS simply another elective? To address this particular issue, the state of Washington did pass a bill this year that makes CS classes count as a math or science requirement towards high school graduation. Should computer science – specifically computer science – be required to graduate? In a Google Hangout in February, President Obama said that that “made sense.” In the UK, computing became part of the national curriculum.

    While many argue that efforts to expand computer science instruction in schools have been insufficient, it’s worth noting that the number of students who took the AP exam in Computer Science did jump up 19% this year. (The NSF also gave the College Board a $5.2 million grant to develop a new Computer Science AP course and exam.)

    There are numerous groups who’ve been long working to improve CS education in the US (such as CSTA), but it was with typical Silicon Valley fanfare that Code.org launched this year. Founded by brothers Hadi Partovi and Ali Partovi (the former was on the founding teams of iLike and Tellme), the non-profit promised to “help make computer programming accessible to everyone.” Code.org kicked off with a video designed to “go viral,” produced by Lesley Chilcott of Waiting for Superman fame and featuring tech entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

    In addition to its video, Code.org has orchestrated a sweeping PR campaign about the need to teach programming Hadi Partovi even got Ryan Seacrest to learn a little code in a Today Show segment. The organization is running an “Hour of Code” during Computer Science Education Week (December 9 - 15). This involves sending kits and promotional materials to interested schools and teachers, offering them hour-long lessons to help introduce computer science to students.

    Code.org plans to compile a database of all sites that offer programming instruction and will also offer professional development and CS curriculum to teachers. To receive the latter, teachers and schools must sign a contract and commit to two years’ participation as well as hand over students’ achievement data. (“Handing over student data” is yet another ed-tech trend I’ll cover in a subsequent post.)

    Also making the rounds encouraging “making” in schools, two of my favorite educators: Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager. Their book, Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, was published this year and has received great reviews. (I believe I called it “the most important education published this year.” Bonus: no contract required to implement their ideas in your classroom.

    “Everyone* Needs to Learn to Code”

    * Some restrictions may apply

    “Everyone needs to learn to code” – that assertion has spun out a genre, of sorts, of blog posts and articles arguing that (some) programming knowledge is mandatory. For example: this one or this one. Arguably there’s a genre too in the “not everyone needs to learn to code” responses. For example: this one or this one. The worst, THE WORST: “Finding the unjustly homeless and teaching them to code.”

    But at the same time that we hear the “everyone should learn to code” chant, it remains clear that not everyone is welcome in tech. There are so many examples I could point to: bias and discrimination based on accent, race, gender, and so on. Violence and intimidation (the reason I took comments off my blog, for example.)

    And probably not THE WORST, but pretty mind-blowingly awful: Titstare, an app demoed on stage at Techcrunch Disrupt, in front of Adria Richards (fired earlier this year after she tweeted about two men’s inappropriate comments during a tech conference), hackers from Black Girls Code, and other young girls who were on stage or in the audience.

    The messages about who’s welcome in tech start early. They can start in the media or they can start in school. (Incidentally, according to a survey conducted by CSTA this year, the average computer science teacher is “a white male who has been teaching for more than 15 years and has been teaching Computer Science for about 13 years.”) The messages can be subtle or overt – like expelling a young black girl from school and charging her with a felony when a science experiment she conducts causes a minor explosion.

    As Mimi Ito wrote in an op-ed in Wired,

    Recruitment into the life of a coder happens well before kids walk into the classroom. The peer groups that young geeks form are as critical to their learning and development as tech experts. Kids become coders because they are friends with other coders or are born into coder families, which is why the networks can become exclusionary even when there is no explicit racism and sexism involved. It’s about cultural identity and social networks as much as it’s about school offerings or career opportunities. Kids need to play and tinker with computers, have friends who hack and code together, and tackle challenging and new problems that are part of their everyday lives and relationships.

    We know that the more diverse the ecosystem of talent, the more innovative are the solutions that result. If we really care about the talent gap in high tech, innovation, and entrepreneurism, we need to do more than look overseas, or push classes and school requirements at kids. We need to build a sense of relevance and social connection into what it means to be a coder for a wide diversity of kids.

    Manufacturing a STEM Crisis

    The “everyone needs to learn to code” narrative dovetails nicely with the “there’s a shortage of STEM workers” story: that is, we simply aren’t training people with the necessary high-tech skills to fill job vacancies — now or in the future. Both of these also work well with the “schools are broken” narrative.

    In an August article in IEEE Spectrum, Robert Charette smashes “the myth of the STEM crisis,” arguing that there has long been a cycle of “alarm, boom, and bust” in claims about a shortage of scientists and engineers.

    Clearly, powerful forces must be at work to perpetuate the cycle. One is obvious: the bottom line. Companies would rather not pay STEM professionals high salaries with lavish benefits, offer them training on the job, or guarantee them decades of stable employment. So having an oversupply of workers, whether domestically educated or imported, is to their benefit. It gives employers a larger pool from which they can pick the “best and the brightest,” and it helps keep wages in check. No less an authority than Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said as much when in 2007 he advocated boosting the number of skilled immigrants entering the United States so as to “suppress” the wages of their U.S. counterparts, which he considered too high.

    It's worth asking, I think, who benefits from this crisis rhetoric about a shortage of programmers and programming classes. (Clearly as I outline at the beginning of this post, the latter's a booming industry; and as such I don't think it's surprising that the learn-to-code movement has sort of subsumed the maker movement, which is not as maniacally focused on "jobs" and "skills" as much as it is on inquiry and creativity.)

    Charette concludes that while there isn't a STEM worker shortage, there is a STEM knowledge shortage. “Rather than spending our scarce resources on ending a mythical STEM shortage,” he writes, “we should figure out how to make all children literate in the sciences, technology, and the arts to give them the best foundation to pursue a career and then transition to new ones. ”

    Some ways to do that: more project-based learning, more hands-on experimentation, more tinkering, more “making" - things that are still too often pushed aside in the classroom for more lecturing and more standardized testing.

    Some other ways to do that: cut the "it's a meritocracy" bullshit.

    Image credits: John Greenaway and The Noun Project


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    Through today, you can download a Kindle version of Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez’s new book Invent to Learnfor free. You should do so. Really, you should buy the book. (Amazon Affiliate link) Hailed as the “bible” for bringing the maker movement into schools, I think Invent to Learn is the most important education book published this year, offering not just a vision of how “making” and “tinkering” could transform classrooms, but a practical guide for how to move school in a more constructionist direction – how to design better learning environments and projects, how to foster wonder and build capacity in children (and adults), and how to combat the drudgery of a standardized-test-obsessed school system.

    To call Invent to Learn the most important education book published this year runs counter, I realize, to many of the reviews out this week for Diane Ravitch’s latest, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. (Amazon Affiliate link) An education historian, Ravitch is one of the most prominent and controversial figures in education policy debates, and her 21st (!) book will no doubt be a bestseller as her last one was.

    The new book retreads much of the territory of that previous one, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (she really likes the titular colon, doesn’t she). The arguments of both books, this time made with less patience, more fervor: that “corporate education reform” is grounded in false claims about “broken schools,” something that in turn fosters efforts to privatize the US education system.

    “Your critics say you are long on criticism but short on answers.” Ravitch begins Reign of Error recounting an episode with the film critic David Denby telling her this while on a speaking tour for her last book. So this time, she says in her Introduction, she’s offering solutions not just criticisms.

    This is one of the weaknesses of the book, I think, something that gives it a structure that makes Reign of Error read like a long list of political talking points rather than historical narrative. I’ll admit I’m biased here when I say “skip the solutions!” as I’m working on a book that raises far more questions than it gives answers for. But I see great value in penning a detailed critique about “what’s happening” or “what’s wrong” without having to provide prescriptions for “what’ll fix it.” Unlike Invent to Learn, which as a guide must make very practical and doable suggestions, Ravitch’s book isn’t a guide and so doesn’t really succeed in fulfilling the conventions of that genre. It doesn't really work as "history" either. It’s more stump speech than scholarship.

    Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t as though I object to much of what Ravitch proposes here. Access to high quality early childhood education for all. Access to prenatal healthcare. Democratic control of schools. An end to high-stakes standardized testing. But I’m not confident these solutions get at the heart of what is wrong with our current education system – a system that, without a thorough diagnosis, feels as though Ravitch has written herself into a corner here to defend. Some of this defense is a nostalgia on her part for a pre-RTTT and NCLB-era education (nostalgia, as Deborah Meier points out, for an education that never existed for everyone). And some of the defense is her curricular conservativism too.

    Certainly the defensiveness is understandable if you see public schools as “under attack,” which Ravitch clearly does. She spends the first twenty chapters of Reign of Error countering the narrative that “schools are broken,” examining “the facts,” as she puts it, about test scores, graduation rates, the achievement gap, and so on and debunking many of the claims she ascribes to education reformers.

    Claim: Test scores are falling, and the educational system is broken and obsolete.
    Reality: Test scores are at their highest point ever recorded.

    Claim: The nation has a dropout crisis, and high school graduation rates are falling.
    Reality: High school dropouts are at an all time low, and high school graduation rates are at an all-time high.

    She makes her case by pointing to statistics – and alternative ways to interpret these statistics – about academic achievement that challenge the “failing system” story. And rightly so. “Education is broken” has become a powerful narrative over (at least) the last 30 years – not just in political circles but in casual conversation too. A 2012 Gallup poll found only 29% of Americans were confident in the public school system, for example.

    It’s worth scrutinizing closely this narrative, not only to examine its veracity or to investigate who benefits financially, but to ask why has it become so widely accepted. This, dare I say, would be a great job for a historian.

    “Public education is not broken,” insists Ravitch. “It is not failing or declining. The diagnosis is wrong, and the solutions of the corporate reformers are wrong. Our urban schools are in trouble because of concentrated poverty and racial segregation. But public education as such is not ‘broken.’ Public education is in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it.”

    I hear this narrative of crisis quite often in ed-tech industry circles, and I don’t dispute Ravitch’s assertion of its power. Take the PandoDaily piece on “The promise (and refreshingly low hype) of online education,” for example: “High school and elementary school are broken. College is broken. There’s a major distribution problem that the Internet is finally poised to revolutionize, and there are renewed calls to rethink basic vocational training. There’s also money to be made in groups like General Assembly, teaching people to code and hobbyist sites that teach obscure, one-offs like knitting or photography.” Education is broken -- insistence, but no proof. This or that app will fix it -- never any proof. But the financial interests behind the argument are pretty clear.

    Or, they’re clear to me at least. But I think Ravitch is less successful in making these interests and connections clear to her readers, in many cases working with the assumption that they’ve already seen through “the hoax of the privatization movement.” She says in the first chapter of the book that we’re witnessing a “deliberate effort to replace public education with a privately managed, free-market system of schooling.” And maybe we are. But I’m just not sure that the rest of the book, focused as it is on refuting the “schools are broken” narrative, substantiates that claim. Not carefully. Not thoroughly. There’s lots of research here about the problems with TFA and charter schools and merit pay. But it’s sandwiched in between polemic.

    Of course it is. Debates about education reform have become increasingly acrimonious, and Ravitch is no exception to that. She is one of the loudest supporters of teachers in a political climate that is profoundly anti-teacher. She has become one of the fiercest critics of education reform in a political climate that is, at the major party level at least, almost unanimous in its support for it.

    But in her attempts to challenge the “schools are broken” narrative, I worry we’re left with the unstated reverse: “schools are fine” (or at least those schools that aren’t in high poverty areas). Even if we were to scrap high-stakes testing tomorrow and institute, as Ravitch calls for, “a full, balanced, and rich curriculum including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, geography, foreign languages, mathematics, and physical education,” I don’t think we can say “schools are fine.” Not if they remain coercive. Not if there is inequitable funding. Not if classrooms remain teacher-centered. Not if access to powerful computers and to the open Internet is denied. Not if students sit, grouped by age, in rows of desks and move from subject to subject when the bell rings. Not if students are mostly listening and rarely building.

    That’s where Stager and Martinez’s book Invent to Learn comes in as a manual for educators (and parents and principals) – one that could help reignite the progressive education movement and shift school into the hands of modern learners. That makes the book incredibly political, mind you, but the transformation it calls for isn’t simply at the level of policy. The change is pedagogical; the change is technological.

    It’s this last piece that, I admit, has frustrated me the most about Ravitch’s work. Again and again, she has called into question the value of technology in the classroom. And as Stanford education professor Larry Cuban recently observed, it will sadly be the Common Core State Standards’ mandate for computer-based assessment that finally – finally – puts computers in the hands of all public school students. But to resist that needn’t force us to insist “no tech at all.” Technology is neither good, nor evil nor neutral as Kranzberg's law reminds us. Yet the only mentions that technology warrant in Ravitch’s book involve its role in data mining and in cyber charters -- "evil." Surely, as we think about what school can and should be with the advent of the computing technologies, there’s much much more. The millions of page-views Ravitch touts for her own blog point to some of that.

    I don't think we do anyone any service by neglecting nuance around education technology – it’s neither wholly corporate enslavement nor wholly liberatory. Not our political allies. Certainly not our students. We must ask who promotes technology and who profits, sure, but also how is it used, for what learning objectives, and so on. The same goes for all our education practices. The same goes for all our learning spaces.

    This is why Invent to Learn matters. It matters as a defense of democracy, community, and learning in ways that Ravitch’s book, buried as it is in policy and polemic, cannot accomplish. Invent to Learn offers a vision of technology in the hands of learners and in the service of progressive education. And frankly, as much as she’s become an outspoken critic of reform and privatization (and certainly there is plenty of that in ed-tech), progressive education – learner-centered, hands-on, open-ended exploratory messiness – has never been Ravitch’s thing.


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    My apologies for the lateness and lightness of this post. But I’ve been in Paris this past week and WiFi access has been tricky and the red wine abundant. I visited both La Porte d’Enfer and Les Catacombes and I wish I could say I did so without thinking about ed-tech a single time.

    PISA!

    It was PISA week with the release of the 2012 scores from the Program of International Student Assessment, an exam given to students around the world. In math, the average score of US students was 481, lower than the OECD average of 494. In science, the average score of US students was 497; the OECD average was 501. In reading, the average score of US students was 498; the OECD average was 496. University of Oregon professor Yong Zhao weighs in (well, lots of folks did, but I’ll just link to him).

    Other Tests

    The school board in Huntsville, Alabama will offer students cash incentives to do well on their ACT tests – up to $300.

    A revised SAT will not come until 2016, according to Inside Higher Ed.

    The College Board, edX, and Davidson College are teaming up to offer special Advanced Placement courses in calculus, physics and macroeconomics. More details in The New York Times.

    Law and Politics

    There have been a wave of occupations, protesting against privatization efforts at several British universities. More via Angus Johnston and The Guardian.

    The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau will soon have some oversight powers over student loan servicers like Sallie Mae. While the CFPB regulates bank-based loans, student loans haven’t had the same oversight.

    Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Representatives Joe Barton (R-TX) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) have reintroduced the Do Not Track Kids Act, which would update COPPA to further restrict Internet companies from collecting and selling kids’ personal data.

    Civil rights groups in Texas are asking for a ban on using non-lethal weapons like Tasers and pepper spray on school grounds. This follows an incident last month where a student who was tased by a school safety officer suffered a traumatic brain injury.

    Utah State Senator Aaron Osmond (yes, from that family) says he plans to introduce a number of bills in the next legislative session, including one that will allow home school and private school students in the state to opt out of all public school requirements (including assessments) and one that will allow public school parents to influence the selection of their child’s teacher.

    “Argosy University’s Denver campus has agreed to pay $3.3-million in a settlement with the Colorado attorney general’s office, which found that the for-profit institution, a division of the Education Management Corporation, had intentionally misled students about one of its degree programs.” So says The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a former graduate student at the University of Oregon. Monica Emeldi claimed that the school's education department retaliated after she complained about its treatment of women.

    Launches

    Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos managed to distract from the company’s woeful labor practices by announcing via 60 Minutes that it would soon launch drone delivery for Prime members. I’m not even going to link to the folks who wrote about the ed-tech angle here.

    Boundless, the “textbook alternative” startup, has launched its Boundless Teaching Platform, an effort to get more teachers using and remixing Boundless content.

    littleBits unveiled several new modules this week: a microphone, a dc motor + motorMate, a vibration motor + vibeSnap, and a servo!

    Earlier this year, Techcrunch speculated that Aardvark founder Max Ventilla’s next startup would be an education one because his wife had tweeted a stack of education books that he was reading. Turns out, Ventilla’s launched a school. Because what else preparation do you possibly need?!

    Funding and Acquisitions

    STI has acquired the education app store Chalkable for $10 million. More details via Techcrunch.

    Clever has raised $10 million, according to Techcrunch. Because data.

    Pearson has acquired the Brazilian language-learning startup Grupo Multi, says Bloomberg, for £440 million.

    Edsurge reports that SmartestK12 has raised an “undisclosed round” of funding to help “teachers create, deliver and track online assignments.” 

    EducationSuperhighway has raised $9 million in funding from Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates’ non-profits which are both totally neutral initiatives into getting kids faster Internet in their schools, I’m sure. Read The School Library Journal for more details.

    East-West Digital News reports that the Russian edu content market place Besmart.net has raised $4 million in funding.

    CB Insights has listed the top 10 ed-tech funding rounds for 2013. Oh, look. MOOCs. Oh, look. The World Bank. Hmm. (Please stay tuned for my year-end roundup of “the business of ed-tech” which will draw on this and more.)

    “Research” and Data

    The most commonly awarded grade at Harvard is an A. Because they’re all so clever there.

    The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has released a database on athletic and academic spending at NCAA Division I public schools.

    According to a survey conducted by the Los Angeles Board of Education, just 36% of teachers strongly favor continuation of the district’s troubled iPad initiative. 90% of administrators said the same.

    A small number of Chicago Public School students had their personal data leaked online, says the city. although it assures parents that the issue has been fixed. Health data – specifically vision test results – from about 2000 students were briefly accessible online.

    According to research by University of New York professor Peter Shea, online learning does, in some cases, help boost college completion. But he also found that online community college students in Virginia and Washington have higher dropout rates.

    Mike Caulfield takes a closer look at a recent study that found a high rate of employment of history PhDs. He says he’s weighing writing regular “deep dives” into these sorts of stories – when stats make headlines but need more explanation. Do it, Mike!

    And Phil Hill takes a closer look at research out of the University of Pennsylvania on its MOOCs.

    From the HR Department

    MOOC godfather George Siemens is joining UT, Arlington.

    Former Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino is joining Twitter’s Board of Directors, the startup's first and only female board member.

    Image credits: Wikipedia and The Noun Project


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    Part 6 of my Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2013 series

    Etch-A-Robot

    We spend a lot of time in ed-tech talking about the Internet, about the Web, about software. But it all relies on hardware. And I think this was a year in which we saw schools really (re)embrace and (re)up their hardware procurement. I add the re- prefix because this effort isn't new. I often exort folks to read Papert's Mindshift. I should add: read Cuban's Oversold and Underused.

    Beyond "The Year of the iPad"

    Way back in 2011, I chose the iPad as one of the top ed-tech trends of the year. I noted that I’d penned an op-ed in The Huffington Post in January, proclaiming it would be the year of the (educational) tablet. But I was wrong. It was the year of the iPad.

    And arguably, 2013 was more of the same. During October’s quarterly earnings report, Apple CEO Tim Cook bragged that iPads have 94% of the education tablet market share. But Apple’s continued dominance in the tablet market is just one feature of the educational hardware market in 2013 – one that was fairly lively in part because of several headling-grabbing hardware rollouts. Hardware was interesting this year too because of rival tablet makers that are still trying to unseat the Cupertino giant, because of other education hardware makers that are still trying to sell their wares to schools (interactive whiteboards, for example, just won’t die), and because of a number of small and cheap computing devices that are part of the burgeoning “learn-to-code” and “maker” movements.

    Hardware and the Maker Movement

    As I noted in the previous post in this series, there was a surge this year in organizations, companies, and initiatives pushing computer science education. And while the emphasis of many of these is on learning to build software, there are a growing number of hardware offerings too. These include Raspberry Pi (one of my favorite ed-tech startups from 2011), Makey Makey (another one of my favorites), littleBits (another one of my favorite ed-tech startups– note the pattern here?), and LEGO Mindstorms (which I wrote about here).

    Although the Maker Movement is probably most associated with learning outside of formal institutions, it is making inroads into schools. For example, MakerBot, 3D printer manufacturer, announced MakerBot Academy, its effort to help expand the number of 3D printers in schools via a partnership with the crowdfunding platform DonorsChoose.org. Google provided a grant in January to provide 15,000 Rasperry Pis to British schools.

    Language arts teacher Chad Sansing argued in The School Library Journal that Raspberry Pi might be a key to “a school coding revolution.”

    “With its astounding price and flexible capabilities, the Raspberry Pi has the potential to challenge the digital divide and make coding in schools as commonplace as textbooks. Computing could truly become about what kids can make rather than what schools can buy. And making coding affordable for all students could foster creative, independent computing in a way that downloading the latest app does not.”

    That distinction between computers as consumption devices and computers as creative ones isn’t new, of course. Nor is it likely to go away with the massive purchases schools are making, particularly since many of these are associated with the Common Core State Standards’ requirements for computer-based testing and with a push by politicians and publishers to move textbooks from print to screen.

    The Competition for Computers in the Classroom

    Despite all the hype and hoopa about iPads “revolutionizing” education, it’s probably worth noting that interactive whiteboards remain on or near the top of many teachers’ list of what ed-tech they have and want in their classrooms – yes, higher in some cases than iPads or tablets. While an op-ed in Edsurge proclaimed “the downfall of whiteboards” and argued that teachers are no longer interested in them, a survey by PBS at the beginning of the school year found otherwise (perhaps because interactive whiteboards don’t really demand that teaching practices are transformed by technology, although interestingly that same survey found that teachers said IWBs would be the most transformative). Regardless whiteboard maker Promethean has continued to post losses over the last year or so, with demand for the devices shrinking.

    No doubt, schools are now investing in other sorts of computing hardware, well beyond the interactive whiteboard, and doing so despite budgetary shortfalls. There are more and more options in how to do so.

    Some districts opt for BYOD (equity issues remain here, however, as just 23% of teens own a laptop and 78% a cellphone). Some try to make do with refreshing and refurbishing their old tech. New York-based startup Neverware helps schools improve the performance old hardware with a virtualization appliance called the “juicebox 100” (the startup raised an additional round of funding this year). And some districts are turning to private funding to help with their tech procurement efforts – or San Francisco is at least, with a multimillion donation by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff to the district so it could buy iPads for the city’s middle school students.

    What are schools buying?

    iPads. iPads. iPads. Apple said at the beginning of the year that it had sold over 8 million iPads directly to schools globally, and as I noted above, the company recently boasted 94% of the educational tablet market – something that education writer Anya Kamenetz called “a scary stat.”

    Oh sure, it’s not like other companies aren’t trying. Heck, even Nintendo is hinting at getting into the education tablet market.

    Undaunted, Google continued its hardware push into schools (one that accompanies its software offerings, Google Apps for Education) this year. I predicted once upon a time that Chromebooks would get the axe, but they seem to have found a niche within schools who see them as a cheaper laptop alternative. Google unveiled a couple of hardware upgrades to the Chromebook in 2013 and expanded the number of countries in which they’re available. Covering all its bases – the laptop and the tablet market, Google also launched Google Play for Education, its educational app store for Android. I reviewed Google Play for Education in November, noting that it has a number of administrative features that are far superior to Apple’s iOS device management and app purchasing procedures.

    Microsoft too tried to compete in the education hardware market, although with much less success, particularly when it came to its tablet offering. The company gave away 10,000 of its Surface RTs to attendees at ISTE this summer. But the devices weren’t well received – by reviewers or consumers– and the company posted a $900 million loss in July due to “inventory adjustments” related to its tablets. Microsoft has tried to offer free tablets to schools who signed up for its ad-free version of Bing, but some things you can’t even give away.

    Although less well-known for this in the US than in other countries, Intel did continue its education hardware efforts too. Notably, the company acquired the digital textbook app-maker Kno in early November. Kno had at one time been working on its own hardware – hailed by investor Marc Andreessen as the “most powerful tablet anyone has ever made.” (LOL) Intel had invested in Kno previously and with the acquisition gained a number of the startup’s patents.

    Perhaps the most-anticipated entrant into the education tablet market this year was Amplify, the education wing of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Just in case you feared that iPad was the only device that could receive the silly “revolutionize education” headlines, Amplify had its share too. “News Corp’s Education Tablet May Be the Bureaucratic Fit Schools Need to Adopt Tech,” wrote Techcrunch’s Greg Ferenstein who authored one of those great “iPads will revolutionize education” stories way back in 2011. Amplify struck a number of content and tech deals with other companies this year. It also announced “one of the largest tablet deployments in K–12 education” in May – but more on that in “failures” section below.

    One Laptop per Child unveiled new hardware this year too – a tablet which for the first time in the organization’s long history was made available via retail in the US. Yes, you can now buy a OLPC tablet at Walmart. There’s no mention of constructionism in the item description. But there is a learning dashboard so parents can track their kids data and their learning styles. And this kids, is why we can’t have nice things in ed-tech.

    That other bastion of constructionism and ed-tech, you could say, has been the state of Maine which has had a one-to-one laptop program for over a decade. (You can trace the lineage here between the One Laptop Per Child project, its founder Nicholas Negroponte, his fellow MIT professor Seymour Papert – who happens to be a Maine resident.) This year, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative announced that it was going to expand proposals beyond laptops and allow companies to propose bids for tablet solutions as well. And in April, the state announced that Hewlett Packard, and not Apple, would win the contract for the program. But despite the official nod, most districts in the state stuck with Apple, although some did switch from MacBook to iPad.

    The Troubles with Tablets

    But with all the hype and all the hoopla and all the contracts and all the sales, I don’t think educational hardware ends 2013 on a positive note. Indeed, since back-to-school this fall, there have been a series of well-publicized failures in technology production and implementation.

    In some cases, it was a matter of lousy devices. The Aakash tablet, for example, which promised a “game-changing” $35 tablet, still faces manufacturing issues. HP Chromebooks suffered from overheating chargers and were pulled from store shelves. Overheating chargers, along with quick-to-break devices, also plagued Amplify’s ballyhooed tablet rollout in North Carolina, and the district has put the initiative on pause. A principal at the Mountrath schools in Ireland called the move to HP tablets “an unmitigated disaster” due to technical issues including systems failures, tablets failing to turn on or leave sleep mode, and so on.

    In other cases, the introduction of tablets caused problems that administrators and tech proponents should have planned for but clearly hadn't considered. (Ugh.) Many schools reported widespread issues with theft of devices and hadn’t really thought through who’d be responsible – the school or the student. Some schools realized that the lack of high-speed Internet at home was too big a barrier for digital textbook and tablet implementations.

    And then there was the panic about “students hacking their iPads.” (Good for them, I say. But what do I know.) When students in Indiana received their school-issued iPads this fall, they quickly bypassed the security on the devices. Indeed, many districts said that this fall’s upgrade to iOS7 caused security and filtering issues.

    With security issues and other problems making headlines, the Corvallis (Oregon) School District opted to delay its iPad rollout. Fort Bend ISD (in Houston, Texas) opted to scrap its $16 million iPad initiative. Miami-Dade (Florida) opted to delay its $63 million tech rollout. And then there's LAUSD...

    LAUSD: Everything That Could Go Wrong With an iPad Implementation in One Ongoing Ed-Tech Disaster

    Years from now, instructional technology students will read about the LAUSD iPad rollout as a case study in how not to implement ed-tech. Because even though districts across Maine (and elsewhere) have been managing one-to-one computing programs for over a decade now, LAUSD didn’t learn a single lesson from any of them. A few highlights:

    In June, Apple issued a press release, announcing that it had been awarded a $30 million deal by the Los Angeles School Board of Education to begin “to begin a massive roll out of iPad® to its students across the school district starting this fall. The $30 million commitment for iPads is the first phase of a larger roll out for the country’s second-largest public school district.” Apple issued a press release, kids. For a company that rarely does so, it was a big deal.

    That $30 million only covered the initial rollout – the first 31,000 devices. The district said it planned to give all 640,000 school children an iPad by the end of 2014. The cost of the entire project: an estimated $1 billion. (No wonder Apple issued a press release.)

    But that estimation missed a few key line items. It didn’t include keyboards, something that could add another $38 million to the cost. The software licenses – special proprietary curriculum created by education giant Pearson – expire after 3 years and renewal could cost the district $60 million annually. A revised estimate of the price of each iPad in October: $770 per piece, some 14% above the initial bid and well above the retail price.

    (Here’s a link to the contract with Apple and Pearson which you have to assume that no one on the LA School Board actually read.)

    It also appeared that the school district hadn’t worked out who’d be financially responsible if a student lost or broke an iPad. As with the students in Indiana, high schoolers in LA bypassed security on the devices, allowing them to – gasp! – listen to Pandora and visit Facebook and freely surf the Web.

    There are concerns now that the district will struggle financially to sustain the project, which is being funded overwhelmingly by school construction bonds. Because nothing makes more sense to pay for a device with a 12-month forced obsolescence cycle than using money set aside for building brick and mortar buildings. Nevertheless 90% of administrators surveyed by the district favor continuing the initiative. (Just 36% of teachers do.)

    And while there were hints that former Gates Foundation exec and now LA schools chief John Deasy would step down amidst the iPad clusterfuck, he’s keeping his job.

    iPads. Revolutionizing education indeed.

    Image credits: Kevin Simpson and The Noun Project


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    Part 7 of my Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2013 series

    This is the third year in a row that I've chosen "data" as one of the "top trends" in ed-tech. (See 2011, 2012) If you're looking for a sunnier view of data in education, read those. 2013, in my opinion, was pretty grim.

    Edward Snowden: Not TIME Person of the Year

    TIME Magazine announced its Person of the Year this morning: Pope Francis. He seems like a pretty swell guy, don’t get me wrong. But many folks have argued it’s a dull even cowardly decision by the magazine. (Of course, its other recent selections include Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Ben Bernanke, and Mark Zuckerberg. TIME is not really known for bold choices, let’s be honest).

    The appropriate choice for Person of the Year, some argue, would be Edward Snowden, who along with the journalist Glenn Greenwald, is certainly responsible for the most important story of the year: revelations about widespread government surveillance by the National Security Agency – the collection of massive amounts of data from telephone and technology companies. “Email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP chats, file transfers, social networking details, and more” siphoned from Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Skype, AOL, and others. Encryption undermined. Malware spread. Our social connections mapped. Warrantless spying by governments (not only by the US’s) – not just on suspected terrorists, but on all of us.

    Interestingly I heard very little outcry from ed-tech proponents about the troubling implications of NSA surveillance via the technologies that are being pushed in schools, about the impact that this might have on students’ privacy, – hardly a peep from those who have gone “all in” with Google Apps or iPads or YouTube for Schools or Skype in the Classroom or Facebook.

    That’s not to say that there weren’t any red flags raised this year about data collection, data mining, and privacy. But often, these were concerns about corporations‘ use of student data and not governments’. The Snowden revelations should serve as a reminder that the two are inseparable.

    And perhaps some educators’ excitement about tools like Google Glass should serve to remind us too that just as an uncritical embrace of “ooo! shiny!” runs deep in some ed-tech circles, a culture of surveillance runs deep in schools as well.

    Surveillance and Ed-Tech

    Google Glass became available to a small number of “explorers” this year – including a handful of educators – who paid $1500 for the privilege of testing the wearable computing devices. Glass has been hailed by some as a “cybernetic sensory organ.” But it is a sensory organ that delivers its data to a corporate entity (a corporate entity that the government has tapped, so we’ve learned). This extraction of personal data – for the sake of profit or improved marketing or better algorithms – is a process that has spurred very little critical response among ed-tech proponents when it comes to the adoption of software and hardware. There are very few questions about data: who owns education data, who analyzes education data, who uses it. (More on that below.)

    As ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian recently tweeted that “Google built one of the largest surveillance networks in the world. Of course the NSA was going to find a way to use it too.” I might add, “of course schools will try to use it as well.”

    For many educators enthralled by Google Glass, it’s the unobtrusive and hands-free camera that they frequently tout the most. They shrug off privacy concerns, saying that students already have cameras in the classroom via their various computing devices. But there are many important distinctions here – Glass’s photos and metadata that are automatically shared with Google (and thanks to Google’s Terms of Service, users’ data consolidated across all Google services); it is much easier to take photos surreptitiously with Glass; and Glass is “always on” surveillance. Surveillance and sousveillance practices foster coercive and exploitative learning spaces. As Jeremy Bentham might argue, that’s a feature, not a bug.

    Interestingly, having more surveillance cameras in the classroom is one of the goals laid out by Bill Gates this year as part of the Gates Foundation’s efforts to implement a $5 billion teacher monitoring and measurement system– one that includes installing cameras in every classroom in the US. (The Gates Foundation is, of course, best known for its funding of healthcare and education initiatives. But it also invested this year in the security company G4S. Again with the obligatory Bentham nod, I guess, eh?)

    Other surveillance efforts undertaken by school districts this year:

    Glendale Unified School District hired Geo Listening to monitor students on social media– all their public social media posts, even those made off-campus and after school hours. “For safety,” insists the school (the same reason of course, the NSA gives for monitoring our data too).

    Schools in West Cheshire (UK) and Longmont (Colorado) used RFID chips and GPS tracking systems in students’ IDs and bus passes in order to track their locations. A student in San Antonio, Texas, suspended for refusing to wear an RFID-enabled ID, sued her school claiming that it violated her religion, but she lost the case. The district later dropped the RFID program, finding it uneconomical.

    Arguing that IDs are too easily lost, some schools in Florida and South Carolina opted instead to scan students’ irises for identification. Again “for safety” sake.

    The universities of Sunderland and Ulster installed biometric monitoring systems on their satellite campuses to track if students – international students not British ones – are attending lecture.

    Alabama University announced that it would use drones to monitor students on campus. Chicago Alderman George Cardenas suggested that the city deploy drones to monitor the city’s “Safe Passage” routes used by children to get to and from school.

    It’s the normalization of military and police technology, you might argue, disguised as consumer and ed-tech: drones delivering Amazon packages, drones delivering textbooks, fingerprint scanners on Apple devices, any number of surveillance accessories and practices that parents can use on their children.

    Don’t Worry. It’s “Just Metadata”

    In the early days of the Snowden-NSA story, President Obama tried to reassure people that the government wasn’t actually reading their email or listening to their phone calls. “Just the metadata,” he insisted.

    But analyzing metadata – even without looking at the explicit content of a message – is incredibly revealing. Who you emailed. How often. The IP address from which a website was accessed. Who you called. How long you talked. The geolocation of your cellphone. The patterns that all of these form, particularly when gathered at scale. Metadata is the message, argues Wired Magazine’s Matt Blaze.

    At such a scale, people’s intuition about the relative invasiveness of content and metadata starts to fail them. Phone records can actually be more revealing than content when someone has as many records and as complete a set of them as the NSA does.

    Voice content is hard to process. It ultimately requires at least some human analysis, and that inherently limits the scale at which it can be used, no matter how much raw material the NSA might have. Intelligence agencies are famously backlogged in translating and analyzing even high-priority intercepts. More content only makes the problem worse.

    Metadata, on the other hand, is ideally suited to automated analysis by computer. Having more of it just makes it the analysis more accurate, easier, and better. So while the NSA quickly drowns in data with more voice content, it just builds up a clearer and more complete picture of us with more metadata.

    But that’s not the most revealing thing about metadata, or the only reason to be concerned about the privacy implications of a massive call records database. Metadata ultimately exposes something deeper, far more than what a target is talking about.

    Metadata is our context. And that can reveal far more about us — both individually and as groups — than the words we speak.

    Such is the promise of “big data” and analytics at scale. Such is the promise of big educational data and learning analytics at scale.

    What Are and Who Owns Education Data?

    Many people still consider “education data” to be simply what we’ve thought of as an individual student’s educational record: name, home address, grade level, dates of attendance, final grade – the sort of stuff that appears on a report card. But thanks in no small part to our increasing use of technology, education data is so much more – so much more “metadata.”

    Students’ search engine history. Learning management system log-ins and duration of their LMS sessions. Blog and forum comment history. Internet usage while on campus. Geolocation. Emails sent and received. Social media profiles, the frequency of social media profiles, and their “influence.” Pages read in digital textbooks. Videos watched on Coursera or Khan Academy or Udacity, along with if and where they paused it. Exercises completed on any of these platforms. Keystrokes and mouse clicks logged. (That last item, along with biometric data, is how Coursera said it plans to verify students’ identities as part of its “signature track.”)

    Again and again and again this year I’ve tried to ask “who owns education data?” Who controls it? Who sells it? Who analyzes it? To what end? Who gets to learn from it? (The answer in almost all cases is not“the student.”)

    A brief look at some of what we’ve learned from “the data” this year (granted, much of this from pretty “traditional” sources):

    College enrollment is down; the US News & World Report‘s college rankings are still worth ignoring; teens do pay attention to privacy and mobile apps; SAT scores remain flat; the majority of students in public schools in the American South and West are now low income; Division I public universities’ spending on athletics is growing faster than their spending on academics; state universities are giving a growing share of financial aid support to wealthier students; 95% of teens use the Internet; most MOOCs have a completion rate of around 13%; teacher job satisfaction is at a 25-year low; per student public education spending in the US dropped for the first time in almost four decades; parents still think libraries are important no matter what crap Techcrunch tries to argue; 40 states have suspected cheating on K–12 standardized tests; PISA scores can probably confirm whatever education narrative you want to tell; the same probably goes for NAEP scores; the elite Hunter College High School is the saddest place in New York (based on a sentiment analysis of the city’s Tweets, at least); American adults don’t do well on OECD math tests; and journalists love to misconstrue academic research when it can provide them with a titillating headline like “Tenured Professors Make Worse Teachers.” Maybe we’ll do better in 2014 when data guru Nate Silver, who quit his gig at The New York Times this year, launches the new Five Thirty Eight blog. He did suggest in a Reddit Ask Me Anything this year that he might write more about education data (and hopefully that doesn’t just mean writing about college sports stats, now that he’s working for ESPN).

    Public Data / Personal Data

    One of the great challenges we face with collecting and analyzing education data is that it often exists in a murky and uncomfortable overlap between the public and the personal. When we push to open data from the former, we must weigh the implications for the latter– we must weigh the ethics and consider the politics of our data initiatives. Open data, while it claims to promote more governmental transparency, is not apolitical.

    We can see this in the public records requests for emails relating to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donations to Newark, New Jersey, for example, and for emails from former Indiana and Florida school chief Tony Bennett, revealing his move to change the grade of a campaign donor’s school.

    We can see this too in the ongoing attempts by many local newspapers to print teachers’ VAM (value-added model) scores, despite the widespread recognition that these models are quite flawed: The LA Times, The Florida Times-Union, The Boston Globe, The Cleveland Plains Dealer all requesting districts provide them with teachers’ names and scores (and sometimes suing when districts refused) so they could publish them publicly.

    And we can see this – and we’ll see more of it in 2014, I’m sure – in the call by President Obama to “enlist entrepreneurs and technology leaders with a ‘Datapalooza’ to catalyze new private-sector tools, services, and apps to help students evaluate and select colleges.” Collecting, measuring, analyzing data – “data-driven decision-making” – is a cornerstone of the Obama Administration’s education policies at both the K–12 and higher education level.

    Privacy, Data, and the Law

    OK, sure. The NSA’s surveillance program might have made much of this moot, but there are laws that purport to protect students’ and children’s data. Some legal and legislative updates this year:

    A revised COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) went into effect on July 1. The update clearly reflects lobbying efforts by tech companies as contextual advertising is now exempt – data can be collected from minors without parental permission using this method). But oh! Lest we think that the FTC doesn’t care a whit about kids’ privacy (snicker), it did fine Path $800,000 this year for letting kids under 13 sign up.

    In November, Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Representatives Joe Barton (R-TX) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) re-introduced their Do Not Track Kids Act, an attempt to extend COPPA provisions to make it tougher to disclose kids’ data, particularly around geolocation and to create an “eraser button” for kids data.

    Speaking of erasers, California passed a bill that would do just that: require Web companies (starting in 2015) to remove online activity should a minor in the state request it. (A good idea in theory, perhaps, but there are lots of problems with how this will actually work.)

    A bill was proposed in Massachusetts that would, according to Wired, “ban companies that provide cloud computing services from processing student data for commercial purposes.” Turns out the bill was backed by Microsoft in an attempt to unseat Google Apps from schools in the state. Like a lot of recent things Microsoft, the bill went nowhere.

    The Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal started to wind its way through the courts this year, with a former elementary teacher pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and an administrator being acquitted of witness tampering.

    And lest one think legislation about student data has all been written and submitted, Education Week suggests that this will be a major push of the corporate lobbying group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 2014. It will push legislation that would require states to have a chief privacy officer to monitor student data collection. (There are other proposals out there regarding CPOs, incidentally, ones that more privacy-focused.)

    Data as “The New Oil”

    Privacy concerns and legal protections aside, lots of people are betting on “big data” to “fix” education, to offer insights into how people learn, and/or to make a neat profit.

    Indeed, data is seen as incredibly lucrative – “the new oil” – in both commercial and education software. To that end, LinkedIn opened its service to younger students this year, making a concerted effort to recruit high school students to the site. Facebook changed its privacy policy for minors, allowing them to share their data more publicly. (Remember kids, if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.) The Wall Street Journal noted that “kids apps are data magnets.” But again, this isn’t simply a consumer product issue; it’s an ed-tech issue too.

    McKinsey issued a report in October arguing that opening up education data could have a potential value of $890 billion to $1.18 trillion. But Common Sense Media cautioned against doing so at the expense of children’s privacy.

    If data really is “the new oil,” then we should probably pay attention to data spills – that is, data leaks. FSU admitted this year that it had leaked data from over 47,000 student teachers-in-training. The personal data of some 72,000 past and present employees of the University of Delaware was leaked. One security company said that these sorts of leaks were facilitated, in no small part, by the fact that a quarter of higher ed institutions transmit sensitive data without encryption.

    If data is “the new oil” we should probably think about the security of our mining practices. The New York Times questioned the data security of Edmodo in a story this summer, for example, prompting the company to switch on SSL for all users.

    So once mined and drilled and extracted and processed, what does all this data give us? “Adaptive” technology! “Personalized” software! Algorithms! Recommendations! Analytics! Insights!

    Oh, and if you’re a company selling something that uses “data” in your slide deck to investors, perhaps a nice chunk of funding:

    Panorama raised $4 million from Mark Zuckerberg’s Startup: Education fund (the startup offers a survey tool to schools). Clever raised $10 million to standardize APIs for school information systems and “unlock and share” student data. Junyo, which pivoted last year away from selling schools dashboards to selling schools’ data to other companies, acquired a database of K12 grants– “market intelligence.” Pearson acquired Learning Catalytics, a learning analytics company co-founded by Harvard professor Eric Mazur. Kidaptive raised $10.1 million and launched its adaptive learning tools, including an iPad app so parents can track their kids’ development. KnowRe raised $1.4 million for its “adaptive learning” platform. McGraw-Hill acquired a 20% equity stake in Area9 which is helping it build out its “adaptive learning” platform. Desire2Learn acquired DegreeCompass, a tool that offers “personalized” course recommendations to students. Desire2Learn also acquired Knowillage for its “adaptive learning” technology. Knewton expanded its “adaptive learning” platform, partnering with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Macmillan.

    A couple of important hiccups in the mining process this year:

    Course Signals / Error Signals

    Purdue University’s Course Signals is probably one of the best known products in the relatively new field of learning analytics. The software uses predictive modeling to give students a red, yellow, or green “traffic light,” informing them of whether they’ll pass or fail a class. It’s been shown to be quite good at helping students improve their grades. Not all courses at Purdue use Course Signals (it’s integrated into the LMS), but this fall the university issued a press release claiming that the software has a long-term effect on students and “boosts graduation rate 21 percent.”

    Mike Caulfield was one of the first to suggest that the math “doesn’t add up” and that the experiment might suffer from a “reverse-causality” problem – something that led to inquiries by Michael Feldstein, Alfred Essa, and Doug Clow (among others), along with questions about the ethics of the university and even the future of the field of learning analytics. (A lengthy “explainer” by Caulfield can be found on the e-Literate blog).

    While this might sound like a minor glitch in research or PR, it’s a pretty significant stumble. As Feldstein argues,

    This is a problem that goes well beyond Course Signals itself for several reasons. First, both Desire2Learn and Blackboard have modeled their own retention early warning systems after Purdue’s work. For that matter, I have praised Course Signals up and down and criticized these companies for not modeling their products more closely on that work, largely based on the results of the effectiveness studies. So we don’t know what we thought we knew about effective early warning systems. The fact that the research results appear to be spurious does not mean that systems like Course Signals has no value, but it does mean that we don’t have the proof that we thought we had of their value.

    More generally, we need to work much harder as a community to critically evaluate effectiveness study results. Big decisions are being made based on this research. Products are being designed and bought. Grants are being awarded. Laws are starting to be written. I believe strongly in effectiveness research, but I also believe strongly that effectiveness research is hard. The Purdue results have been around for quite a while now. It is disturbing that they are only now getting critical examination.

    InBloom Whithers

    While Course Signals has been widely praised (up until very recently at least) for its effective use of data to improve student outcomes, inBloom has never really been successful at convincing the education sector that it would be a good, useful, or even plausible project.

    Initially called the Shared Learning Collaborative, the non-profit has received $100 million from the Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corporation and others to build a student data infrastructure for public schools– one that would improve both the storage of student information and the ease with which third party developers can access it.

    The SLC rebranded in February of this year to inBloom (an indication, I reckon, that none of those folks know the lyrics to the Nirvana song “In Bloom” – the part about “sell the kids for food.” Anyway…). It had a major presence at SXSWedu in March for its official launch: an inBloom lounge and an inBloom session track (in addition to the data track) and an inBloom party and an inBloom hackathon and lots of folks in inBloom t-shirts and a Gates Foundation party and a Bill Gates keynote. You get the picture.

    At that launch at SXSWedu, inBloom boasted 9 state partners (Delaware, Massachusetts, Colorado, Louisiana, New York, Illinois, North Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky). Many companies said they were on board too, with plans to use and integrate inBloom data, including Amazon, Clever, Compass Learning, Dell, eScholar, Goalbook, Kickboard, LearnSprout, Promethean, Scholastic, and Schoology. But if you visit the partner pages on the inBloom site today, you can see a lot of those names are missing. inBloom has been abandoned right and left.

    Louisiana pulled out in April. North Carolina pulled out in May. That same month, Kentucky, Georgia, and Delaware told Reuters that they’d never actually made a commitment to use the platform. Massachusetts said it was on the fence and hadn’t shared any student data with inBloom. In November, the Jefferson County School Board (in Colorado) voted to scrap their partnership with inBloom, and the Chicago Public Schools opted to use their own state-run database instead. New York remains committed to the project, although a lawsuit was recently filed to block it from sharing data with the non-profit.

    Much like the roll-out of the Common Core State Standards, opposition to inBloom comes from a variety of perspectives and politics – those fearing a “big brother” government; those fearing a Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch-led data grab (Wireless Generation, part of Murdoch’s News Corp, built part of the inBloom infrastructure); those fearing students’ personal data will be used for nefarious purposes; those fearing students’ personal data will be used for profit.

    inBloom was never able to assuage these fears. It was never able to successfully articulate why an updated data infrastructure was necessary for public schools, often sidestepping inquiries about its plans for student data by pushing the decisions and the liabilities back onto states and districts.

    Of course, the collection of student data isn’t new. The storage of student data isn’t new. The sharing of student data with third party vendors isn’t new. There are several other data models (CEDS, SIF, EdFi) that facilitate this.

    But inBloom, with its connections to the controversial figures of Bill Gates, Joel Klein, and Rupert Murdoch and with its rollout timed in parallel with the controversial Common Core, became this year a symbol to many of technology’s role in the privatization of public education. It’s unclear how inBloom, or more broadly speaking ed-tech, will be affected by this association.

    Data, Privacy, and the Future of Ed-Tech

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously declared privacy “dead” back in 2010. This year, incidentally, he bought the four houses adjacent to his after hearing that a developer had plans to market a neighboring property as being “next door to Mark Zuckerberg.”

    Nevertheless, you hear it a lot in technology circles – “privacy is dead” – often uttered by those with a stake in our handing over increasing amounts of personal data without question.

    To see privacy as something will inevitably “die,” to view it as a monolithic notion is quite ahistorical. To do so ignores the varied cultural and social expectations we have about privacy today. It ignores how power relations have always shaped who has rights and access to autonomy, self-determination, solitude. It ignores the ongoing resistance (by teens, for example, by activists, and by librarians) to surveillance.

    Nonetheless, as the adoption of ed-tech continues (and with it, the increasing amount of data created – intentionally or unintentionally, as content or as “exhaust”), there are incredibly important discussions to be had about data and privacy:

    • What role does privacy play – or phrase differently: what role does a respite from surveillance play – in a child’s development?
    • How can we foster agency and experimentation in a world of algorithms?
    • What assumptions go into our algorithms and models? Who builds them? Are they transparent? (After all, data is not objective.)
    • Who owns education data?
    • What happens to our democracy if we give up our privacy and surrender our data to tech companies and to the federal government? What role will education play in resisting or acquiescing to these institutions’ demands?

    Image credits: PolicyMic (with a nod to Shepard Fairey) and The Noun Project


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    Abacus

    The "Hour of Code"

    According to Code.org, the organization that’s spearheaded this week’s push to teach more students computer science, over 13.7 million students have “learned an hour of code” this week.

    Chicago Public Schoolssays it will add computer science as a core subject, instead of an elective, in the city’s high schools.

    Timed with this week’s “Hour of Code,” Codecademy has launched an iOS app: Codecademy: Hour of Code.

    Perhaps not timed with this week’s “Hour of Code,” Change the Equation reports that women earned just 18% of CS degrees in 2012, down from 27% about a decade earlier.

    Pearson's Big News Week

    The Pearson Foundation, the “charitable arm” of the largest education company in the world, will pay $7.7 million to settle an investigation that “it repeatedly broke New York State law by assisting in for-profit ventures” surrounding the publisher's creation of Common Core-related textbooks and software.

    Faculty in Rutgers University’s School of Arts and Sciences join those in the Graduate School in voting to block any programs that the university tries to outsource to Pearson.

    Pearson has graduated the first cohort from its startup accelerator program. Those startups: ClassOwl, Spongelab, Actively Learn, Ace Learning and VLinks Media.

    Pearsonsays it’s invested in India’s Avanti Learning Centres, which help low-income students prepare for college exams. It’s the second time Pearson has invested in the centres since 2012.

    Publishing and Copyright Battles

    The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Jennifer Howard examines takedown notices that academics have been receiving from publisher Elsevier for articles – articles they’ve written – that they’ve uploaded to the research-sharing site Academia.edu. (Some scholars are getting takedown notices for posting their articles to their own blogs too.)

    The University of Toronto and Western University will not renew their contracts with Access Copyright, a controversial Canadian copyright agency.

    Randy Schekman, who won the Nobel prize in medicine this year, saysthat“his lab would no longer send research papers to the top-tier journals, Nature, Cell and Science. Schekman said pressure to publish in ‘luxury’ journals encouraged researchers to cut corners and pursue trendy fields of science instead of doing more important work. The problem was exacerbated, he said, by editors who were not active scientists but professionals who favoured studies that were likely to make a splash.”

    The National Library of Norway plans to digitize all the books in its collection and make them available to read and search online. (Copyrighted materials will be accessible to those with a Norwegian IP address.)

    Whose works will enter the public domain in 2014 (in those countries with a “life plus 70 years” copyright term)? Beatrix Potter, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Fats Waller, among others. (Whose work will enter the public domain in the US? No one’s.)

    MOOCs

    MOOCs haven’t lived up to their hype, and The New York Times is ON IT.

    An unintentionally hilarious headline from The Chronicle on the Udacity and Georgia Tech MOOC Master’s Degree program: “Georgia Tech Designs Its Udacity Pilot to Avoid Failure.” Inside Higher Ed reviews the soon-to-launch program too, noting that the MOOC enrollees are overwhelmingly white, US men (that is, there is much less diversity online than there is in the on-campus version of the program).

    Several interesting blog posts published by Open University professor Martin Weller this week on research (RESEARCH!!) he’s conducting on MOOCs: on learning design, on completion rates, and on design responses to those completion rates.

    Courseralaunched an iPhone app. Because the year would have been incomplete without one.

    Other Online Courses

    EverFiissued a press release saying that it’s hosted the largest online course, with 4 million students completing AlcoholEDU, its class on alcohol prevention.

    Brick and Mortar News

    Cooper Union, whose trustees said this year that the university would start charging tuition for the first time in its history, might not do so after all.

    New York City is planning to open a new high school next year,” reports The Wall Street Journal, “but it won’t have a gym, library, science lab or even a math classroom. The city wants to open a so-called school without walls, one where students would take courses that combine online and classroom learning, while giving them more time for internships. Microsoft will help coordinate internships and industry mentors for students, who could receive certificates showing they have mastered Microsoft Office programs.” The innovation. It burns.

    Law and Politics

    There’s a federal budget deal. Yay. That means the next round of sequester cuts will be “softer.” Yay.

    Parts of Washington’s new voter-approved charter school law have been found unconstitutional, according to the AP, but the decision will not stop the first charters in the state which are scheduled to open in the fall of 2014.

    The state of Kansas is pulling out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of the two consortia designing Common Core assessments. Kansas says it will use tests created by its state university instead.

    The Department of Educationsays that it will recognize same-sex marriages when students complete their financial aid forms (FAFSAs).

    A federal advisory panel has recommended that the Department of Education extend for one year the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges’ accrediting powers. The ACCJC has come under fire for its decision to revoke the accreditation of the City College of San Francisco. More details in Inside Higher Ed.

    Politico’s Stephanie Simon examinesteachers unions’ “moment of truth” – declining membership, PR challenges, and struggles to retain their influence.

    Lorenzo Garcia, the former superintendent of the El Paso ISD, has had one year cut from his sentence. He pleaded guilty last year in a cheating scandal that involved preventing low-performing students from taking assessments in order to boost the district’s scores.

    The Department of Education released the findings from analysis of its school improvement grant (SIG) program last month. But now that will have to be scrapped, as the contractor inadvertently excluded data from some schools.

    EPIC has filed a privacy complaint against Scholarships.com, which “encourages students to divulge sensitive medical, sexual, and religious information to obtain financial aid information.”

    The LAUSD iPad saga continues. “Los Angeles school district officials have postponed plans to provide iPads to all teachers and administrators but still want to use the tablets for new standardized tests this spring,” reports The LA Times.

    Upgrades

    Amazon has updated the reward plan on its Kindle FreeTime subscription service. The “Learn First” will allow parents to force kids to spend a certain amount of time on “educational content” before moving on to other stuff. Recommendation engines for parenting. How lovely.

    Google announced new Dell Chromebooks. And here’s a bigger win, I’d argue, for Chromebooks’ PR: Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy is switching from MacBooks to Chromebooks. Apple has repeatedly used SLA in its education advertising so it looks like it really dropped the ball here by not helping support an amazing, award-winning, Apple-friendly school in a financially troubled district. (SLA’s Chromebooks will be paid for, in part, by a grant from Dell.)

    The Dutch startup Gibbon launched this week with “ curated learning playlists to help anyone teach themselves just about anything.” “A different kind of education startup,” says Techcrunch. Different from what, it’s not clear.

    Starting Shakespeare, an app that helps introduce 8–13 year olds to (obviously) Shakespeare, has launched with an iOS app and teacher handbook.

    The Edmonton Public Librarynow has a Makerspace.

    The education video startup creativeLIVE will now broadcast 24–7 because, in the insightful words of PandoDaily, “there’s a demand for that.”

    Downgrades

    The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood wants Fisher Price to recall an infant seat with an iPad holder, the “Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity Seat for iPads” because holy crap, parents, hold and play with your babies.

    But the award for the “worst toy of 2013” goes to the CTA Digital 2-in–1 iPotty with Activity Seat for iPad.

    Funding and Acquisitions

    Rosetta Stone has acquired the language learning company Tell Me More for €20.75 million ($28 million).

    NewSchools Venture Fund has released its list of “who’s funding K–12 edtech” (a move that reminds me we need much better, open data about this. A project for me for 2014 perhaps).

    From the HR Department

    Gordon Gee, most recently the president of Ohio State University (he stepped down this summer after controversial remarks about Notre Dame and Catholics), will take the helm of West Virginia Universityat least on an interim basis.

    Edsurge reports that Martin Brutosky, former CEO of eChalks, and Tom Murdock, co-founder of Moodlerooms, have joined UnBound Concepts, a startup that’s building an “adaptive book recommendation engine.”

    New York Times media columnist David Carr will joinBoston University“to fill a new endowed chair dedicated to exploring creative business models to support journalism in the digital era.” (He’ll keep his day job at The NYT.)

    Martha Kanter, who is leaving her position in the Department of Education, will become a visiting professor at NYU.

    Phil Hill looks at recent layoffs at the learning management system Desire2Learn and weighs whether these are “significant or not.”

    Social tech researcher danah boyd is launching the Data & Society Research Institute“dedicated to addressing social, technical, ethical, legal, and policy issues that are emerging because of data-centric technological development.” There’s a call for fellows.

    “Research” and Data

    DreamBox Learning was found to have no discernible effects on mathematics achievement for elementary school students,” is the conclusion of a report issued by the Institute of Education Sciences.

    Fordham University has released a study on “Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Schools.” Among the findings: “Districts surrender control of student information when using cloud services: fewer than 25% of the agreements specify the purpose for disclosures of student information, fewer than 7% of the contracts restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors, and many agreements allow vendors to change the terms without notice.” The study, it’s probably worth noting, was sponsored by Microsoft.

    The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center has published its latest report on current term college enrollment. “In fall 2013, overall postsecondary enrollments decreased 1.5% from the previous fall. In fall 2013, enrollments decreased among four-year for-profit institutions (–9.7 percent) and two-year public institutions (–3.1 percent). However, enrollments increased slightly among four-year public institutions (+0.3%) and four-year private non-profit institutions (+1.3%).”

    MIT neuroscientists have found that “schools whose students have the highest gains on test scores do not produce similar gains in ‘fluid intelligence’ — the ability to analyze abstract problems and think logically.”

    According to a study by the Harvard Institute of Politics, 42% of young adults blame colleges for rising student debt. 30% blame the government.

    VC Michael Staton has updated his “unbundling higher education framework.”

    “Smartphone Use Linked to Lower Grades,” reads the Inside Higher Ed headline of a study by Kent State University researchers published in the Computers in Human Behavior journal.

    The Pew Internet and American Life Project has released a study on “How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities.” Turns out, they value them highly, not just for supporting a love of reading but for providing a safe and quiet place, one that provides serves that people have a hard time finding elsewhere.

    The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity has issued a report on the graduation rates of black men on football teams participating in the 2014 Bowl Championship Series. Props to Stanford, where 82% graduate. Just 37% of those at Florida State, which is playing in the BCS Championship game, do. Go team.

    According to data from the Software & Information Industry Association, education software revenue hit $7.97 billion in 2011–2012, up 2.7% from the previous year.

    School “Safety”

    Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the shootings at an elementary school in Newtown. There was another shooting at a Colorado high school today.

    As I’ve sifted through all the education news from 2013 in order to write my year-end review posts, I’m struck by how much violence we’ve seen in schools this year and how it’s increasingly normalized. One school shooting every two weeks since Newtown. Shooters and suspected shooters and lockdowns across K–12 and university campuses. Bulletproof whiteboards, for crying out loud. 

    AlterNet examines the militarization of college campuses. Here’s a gem from the article: “the campus cops at Ohio State University now possess a MRAP; that is, a $500,000 18-ton, mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle of a sort used in the Afghan War.”

    WTF is wrong with us?!

    Image credits: Thomas Claveirole and The Noun Project


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    Part 8 of my Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2013 series

    Boheken Heart, Bologna

    As with the trend of “data,” “open” is something I’ve touched upon in each of my annual year-end reviews (in 2011 and 2012. Again, I recommend reading those posts to gain a sense of past, present, and future).

    In some ways the two –“data” and “open” – represent opposite directions in ed-tech: the former towards a consolidation of power; the latter towards its distribution. The former towards an extraction of value from the learning community, from the public; the latter towards the cultivation of a commons.

    But that’s a terrible over-simplication, in part because both “open” and “data” have become so deeply intertwined in what Evgeny Morozov in To Save Everything Click Here calls “technological solutionism” – this notion that technology can provide us with simple answers (in this case, with more data or more openness) to complicated questions we can’t fully articulate or haven’t fully explored. (My review of his book as it pertains to ed-tech is here.)

    In addition to the publication of his book this year, Morozov also penned a particularly brutal critique of Tim O’Reilly, coiner of the term “Web 2.0,” champion of open source and open government, and, in Morozov’s words, “Meme Hustler.” Morozov’s article – both very long and very harsh – raises important questions about the politics of software, the rhetoric of openness, and an embrace of “algorithmic regulation.” What do the forces of “big data” and “openness” have in common? What are the politics of “open,” or is “open” often simply a substitute for politics?

    What is “Open”?

    Morozov writes,

    Few words in the English language pack as much ambiguity and sexiness as “open.” And after O’Reilly’s bombastic interventions—“Open allows experimentation. Open encourages competition. Open wins,” he once proclaimed in an essay—its luster has only intensified. Profiting from the term’s ambiguity, O’Reilly and his collaborators likened the “openness” of open source software to the “openness” of the academic enterprise, markets, and free speech. “Open” thus could mean virtually anything, from “open to intellectual exchange” (O’Reilly in 1999: “Once you start thinking of computer source code as a human language, you see open source as a variety of ‘free speech’”) to “open to competition” (O’Reilly in 2000: “For me, ‘open source’ in the broader sense means any system in which open access to code lowers the barriers to entry into the market”).

    “Open” allowed O’Reilly to build the largest possible tent for the movement. The language of economics was less alienating than Stallman’s language of ethics; “openness” was the kind of multipurpose term that allowed one to look political while advancing an agenda that had very little to do with politics. As O’Reilly put it in 2010, “the art of promoting openness is not to make it a moral crusade, but rather to highlight the competitive advantages of openness.”

    Not surprisingly, Morozov’s article about Tim O’Reilly wasn’t well-received in many open government, open source, and open data circles. Tim O’Reilly is a well-liked guy, not simply a powerful one. But Morozov’s provocations are important, I’d argue (even if folks feel they’re impolite) as the adjective “open” becomes ascendant, or indeed, as “open” wins.

    “Open” “Wins”

    A list, in no particular order, of some of the “wins” for “open” in 2013:

    • The Open University turned 40.
    • The White House issued a directive, instructing "Federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication and requiring researchers to better account for and manage the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research.” The White House also issued an Executive Order requiring federal government information to be open and machine-readable.
    • Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced a bill that would promote openly-licensed textbooks “by offering grants for pilot projects that produce high-quality open-access textbooks, especially for courses with large enrollment.”
    • The Getty Museum launched an open content program, “to share, freely and without restriction, as many of the Getty’s digital resources as possible.”
    • The Saylor Foundation launched a K–12 program for open online courses (in American Literature, Calculus, Algebra, and Geometry).
    • Washington State’s Open Course Library released 39 more openly licensed textbooks, in order to meet its goal of making available for free the materials from 81 high-enrollment college courses.
    • OpenStax College, Rice University’s open textbook initiative, said it will double the number of fields in which it offers free and openly licensed textbooks by 2015. OpenStax also released its Introductory Statistics textbook.
    • The National Library of Norway announced it would digitize all its books and make them available to search and read online.
    • The British Library uploaded one million public domain scans from 17th–19th century books to Flickr.
    • Google continued its “Summer of Code” initiative, placing college students in various open source projects.
    • (One of my favorite ed-tech open source startups, I confess) LearnBoost was acquired by Automattic, the folks behind WordPress.
    • Inkling and the 20 Million Minds Foundation and OpenStax partnered to make the latter’s free and openly textbooks available on the former’s interactive platform.
    • Boundless continued its legal battle against publishers who’d accused it of copyright infringement, opening late this fall a platform to encourage teachers to contribute, use, and remix OER.
    • Oregon State University adopted an open access policy. The Academic Senate of the University of California also adopted an open access policy.
    • India launched a national repository of open educational resources.
    • The EU launched an “Opening up Education” initiative to promote the usage of OER in schools.
    • Creative Commons released the latest version of its licenses, as well as an “Open Access Button,” “a browser bookmark tool that allows users to report when they hit paywalled access to academic articles and discover open access versions of that research.”
    • The Hewlett Foundation issued several reports on the state of OER: “The Open Education Resources ecosystem: An evaluation of the OER movement’s current state and its progress toward mainstream adoption” (PDF) and “Open Educational Resources: Breaking the Lockbox of Education” (PDF).
    • A running total calculated at the 10th annual Open Education conference estimates that openly licensed textbooks have saved students over $100 million.
    • The California Community Colleges Board of Governors voted to require that “any works created under contracts or grants funded by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office carry the Creative Commons Attribution license that gives permission to the public to reproduce, distribute, perform, display or adapt the licensed materials for any purpose so long as the user gives attribution to the author.”
    • On the eve of leaving office as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton announced an “Open Book Project,” an “initiative of the U.S. Department of State, the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization and leading education innovators to expand access to free, high-quality open educational resources in Arabic, with a focus on science and technology and online learning.”
    • US Circuit Judge Denny Chin agreed with Google’s arguments and dismissed the claim by the Authors Guild that contended that the search giant’s book scanning efforts were copyright violations.
    • Facebook launched“Open Academy,” an initiative that offers college credit to students who work on certain open source projects.

      See. “Open” gets weird…

      Openwashing

      In the face of “open” triumphs, we also saw this:

      • MOOCs galore– the incredible hype over something often far afield from its origins within open education. “An Avalanche is Coming” warned Sir Michael Barber, Katelyn Donnelly and Saad Rizvi (all employees of Pearson Education) in a report issued in March that argues MOOCs would bring about a (profitable) revolution in education. Once upon a time the “open” in MOOC referred not simply to “open enrollment” but also to “OER” and/or to “open negotiation among learners as to the direction of the course itself.” In 2013, the “open” in MOOC more often referred to the startups who were “open for business” – Coursera and Udacity to name just two. And to invoke Gardner Campbell’s 2012 OpenEd keynote, that’s not what we meant at all.
      • The English-language learning company Open English raised $65 million in funding, one of the largest ed-tech investments this year. “Open.”
      • Google shuttered Google Reader, another blow to RSS, an important open standard for the Web. (Another piece, perhaps, of what technologist Anil Dash has described as “The Web We Lost.”)
      • The UK MOOC platform FutureLearn briefly toyed with an “English only” component to its Terms of Service. MOOCs: “open” to anyone who wants to learn in English.
      • The UKOLN was “decimated by cuts.” Indeed, there were layoffs and “reorganization” in a number of open education initiatives in the UK, with some of the kindest, smartest folks gettingthe axthis year.
      • The American Historical Association freaked out at the notion that PhD students would publish their dissertations openly and immediately, urging them instead to embargo their work for 6 years or so… or face certain doom.
      • Prince George County’s Board of Education weighed a proposal that would allow the school district to retain copyright over the content created by staff and students.
      • The MPAA continued its copyright campaign with curriculum that teaches kids that downloading is bad. (You can find some alternatives here that help students understand Creative Commons, fair use, and so on.)
      • The International Publishers Association issued yet another report that called into question the “quality, sustainability, and public funding of Open Educational Resources.” Yawn.
      • Pearson used the word “open” 37 times in its press release to describe its “OpenClass Echange,” “a significant expansion to its open and free learning environment, OpenClass.” Because “open.”
      • Facebook used the word “open” 7 times when it announced its plans to make sure everyone on the planet has access to Facebook the Internet.

      What We Lost

      Boston Wiki Meetup

      On January 11, Aaron Swartz took his own life. It’s a death that has loomed over the entire year – for me, at least. It’s a loss that colors how I frame “open” and “data” and “scholarship” and the politics of all of the above.

      Swartz was a hacker; he was an activist. He had played a role while still a teenager in the creation of RSS, Creative Commons, Reddit.

      He was 26.

      Swartz was indicted in 2011 for downloading millions of academic articles from a JSTOR database through an Internet connection in the MIT library. He was charged multiple felony counts – two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act– and faced up to 35 years in prison and over $1 million in fines.

      As investigations into Swartz’s death unfolded, it became clear that federal prosecutors had been quite vindictive and MIT quite complicit in the events that led up to his death.

      I thought about Aaron Swartz often this year; his death weighed upon me not simply because of friends and colleagues who knew andloved him well. With all the talk I have heard this year about an ed-tech “revolution,” oh how few of those folks know what it means to live under the scrutiny, the investigation, the prosecution, the violence of those in power.

      Aaron Swartz’s politics of “open” were a politics. “Open” wasn’t simply an adjective plugged into a press release, attached to a startup pitch, embedded in a tech blog headline. Aaron Swartz’s politics of “open” were enmeshed with a challenge to intellectual property law; they offered a challenge to the economics of restricted access to scholarship; they were intertwined with the technologies of the open Web – and those technologies, let’s not forget, are political as well.

      If, as I suggested in my previous “Top Ed-Tech Trends” article on data and privacy, that revelations (thanks to Edward Snowden) of the sweeping NSA surveillance programs are the most important story of 2013, then I’d add too that that story cannot be fully separated from Aaron Swartz’s – the control of information and data, the use of technology to “liberate” information, the persecution/prosecution of these “hackers,” systems of power (that liberal IP licensing doesn't necessarily unseat), the battle for “open.”

      The Battle for Open

      Open University’s Martin Weller recently argued in an essay called “The Battle for Open” that “Openness has been victorious in many ways,” but Weller cautioned that “at this point of victory the real struggle begins.”

      “If you look at openness in research, teaching, publication scholarship, then it’s hard to argue that openness hasn’t been successful over the last few years in establishing itself as a core approach in higher education. It isn’t something just a few oddballs bang on about now, it has moved to the centre of discourse (and, more importantly, funding).”

      And yet it doesn’t feel like it should. We aren’t seeing David Wiley leading triumphant processions down Wall Street. The MOOC invasion and backlash is the most visible part of all this, but I think that is just representative of a wider story.

      This battle involves the ongoing struggle to define “what is open.” It involves the narratives that dominate education – “education is broken” and “disruption is inevitable,” for example – and the “solutions” that “open” purports to offer. It involves a response to the growth of corporate ecosystems and commercial enclosures, built with open source technologies and open data initiatives. And all of this, I would argue, must involve politics for which we shouldn't let "open" be an easy substitute.

      Image credits: H Mathew Howarth, Sage Ross and The Noun Project


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      Part 9 of my Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2013 series

      Break The Bank

      This trend is one of the few this year that I haven’t explicitly covered in years past: what’s happening to “the credit” – the credit hour, accreditation, and so on. What counts for credit? Who counts these alternatives? What are they worth?

      This trend is, of course, intertwined with the hype about MOOCs and competency-based education, along with the ongoing concerns about the cost of higher education, the explosion in student loan debt, and the demand that “everyone go to college.”

      For those keeping score at home: in the Fall of 2013, postsecondary enrollments decreased 1.5% from 2012. Enrollments fell at four-year for-profit institutions (down 9.7%) and two-year public institutions (down 3.1%), although they did increase slightly among four-year public institutions (up 0.3%) and four-year private non-profit institutions (up 1.3%). Some of this is no doubt cyclical, as enrollments change as opportunities outside of school grow or shrink. But the diploma gap between high-income and low-income students continued to grow (54% of students from high-income families born circa 1980 completed a college degree compared to 9% of those from low-income families). And opportunities for the college-educated and the non-college educated alike seemed circumscribed in an economy that feels pretty grim.

      Debt Nation

      The average student loan debt (that is, for those students taking loans – roughly 7 in 10) hit $29,400 this year. (Here’s a breakdown state-by-state of who’s graduating with debt.)

      The amount of student loan money owed the federal government surpassed $1 trillion this year. (The Department of Educationmakes a lot of money on that debt incidentally.)

      Student loan default rates hit their highest levels since 1995.

      There are over 260 colleges and universities in the US, according to The USA Today, that have a higher loan default rate than they do on-time graduation rate. (Nearly half of these are for-profits.)

      But the crisis wasn’t enough, clearly, for Congress to get its act together on legislation pertaining to student loan interest rates, causing those rates to double in July before the Democrats and Republicans could come to a deal over new rates.

      The majority of undergraduates now receive some form of federal financial aid. Colleges have expanded their aid offerings too although these aid packages increasingly help wealthier students, according to a report by ProPublica.

      In light of all this, it’s hardly a surprise that lots of folks continue to ask “Is college worth it?” “Sure it is!” some will insist. “Hell no, it’s not!” others will try to convince you. But there’s really no one good answer for everyone. Sorry. Worth it for whom? How do you define “worth”? And so on.

      The Cost of College

      So why the hell is college so expensive? There were lots of explanations put forward this year, including a 10-part series in The Washington Post’s Wonkblog by Dylan Matthews – “The Tuition is Too Damn High.” (One reason Matthew gives: there’s no reason for big universities to rein in spending.) And while I’m pretty weary of infographics, I think this one in Deadspin about each state’s highest paid employee is pretty damn insightful about one of the things that’s eating away at college budgets – and their missions.

      There was some indication that tuition increases were slowing down this year, but that’s little comfort for students and parents (and tuition just one part of the overall cost of college).

      And despite the higher price tag for a college degree, Moody’s Investment Services issued a report this year suggesting that tuition revenue was not keeping up with inflation, supporting concerns that many institutions may be in financial trouble.

      Of course, not all schools are in trouble. Not remotely. Stanford’s doing quite well, for example, becoming the first university to pull in a billion dollars in donations in a single year. And Yale is doing fine too; it’s sitting on an endowment of nearly $20 billion. (That didn’t stop the university from suing graduates who are failing to repay their loans.)

      But some schools are hurting. Some closed their doors this year (for accreditation reasons, it should be noted, not just for financial ones). That being said, we still have a helluva long way to go ’til we get to the last 10 universities standing.

      One of many notable institutions that are struggling: Cooper Union, one of the oldest universities in the country and one that has offered students full-tuition scholarships since it was established in 1859. Indeed that was part of the school’s founding mission: to make education “open and free to all.” But the Board of Trustees voted this year to begin charging tuition – the result of financial mismanagement. Students protested, occupying some of the university’s buildings; but as the year draws to a close, it does seem as though the board might revisit their decision on tuition.

      Meanwhile, the last of the German universities that levy tuition fees said they will phase them out in 2014. Free higher education. What a novel idea.

      Here in the US, we’re floating proposals for $10,000 degrees or for “Paying It Forward” (no tuition at public universities, then a repayment system based on student income). And we’re floating these from the very top of the government:

      President Obama’s Higher Education Plan

      A look at growing student debt and growing tuition rates is all background to the calls to “do something” about college costs and student debt (which I promise, have something to do with the title of this post: rethinking “college credit”).

      President Obama has indicated that higher education will be a key part of his second term agenda, and the First Lady hit the speaking circuit this year to talk about college, pushing low income and minority students to attend.

      In August, Obama unveiled his higher education plan, one that deals with largely with addressing the question of affordability. Among his proposals: tying financial aid to college performance, creating a Race to the Top for higher ed, building a rating system for schools (let’s hope it’s better than the US News & World Report rankings, eh), rewarding colleges who tow the party line with Pell Grant bonuses. Sounds pretty bold, says Kevin Carey. Sounds sorta coercive, says me.

      In terms of “innovation,” Obama called for universities to “award credits based on learning not seat time” (competency-based or mastery-based learning, that is). He said schools should “use technology for student services.” Schools should “recognize prior learning and promote dual enrollment.” And he urged them to “use technology to redesign courses” (MOOOOOOOCs!)

      Badges, Certificates, and Alt-Credits

      I see “badges” on a lot of folks’ lists of the top trends in education this year. Indeed, Mozilla, which has been shepherding the development of the technology infrastructure to support badges, did release Version 1.0 of its software this year. But I’m not sure we’ve really seen enough uptake in badges to decree them a trend. Credits still matter – they matter to students; they matter to institutions; they matter to employers.

      Even when it comes to certificates for MOOCs – something we saw in Coursera and edX’s nascent business models this year – it's not clear if these can be a replacement for a college diploma or if they’re merely a supplement.

      MOOCs for Credit

      I’ve detailed a lot of this in my year-end post on MOOCs, but I’ll recap here too:

      Both Udacity and Coursera had courses approved) for ACE credit-equivalency (although interestingly, two universities that offer the ACE-approved Coursera MOOCs – Duke and UC Irvine – said they will not allow their students to use these MOOCs for credits). In August, The University of Maryland University College said it would be the first university to offer transfer credits to its students who complete MOOCs (or more precisely, who “demonstrate learning” from 3 Udacity or 3 Coursera courses, the ones that had been approved for ACE credit-equivalency). Georgia State University said it would offer credit for students taking MOOCs. The University of São Paulo said it would offer credit for two MOOCs offered via the Brazilian MOOC platform Verduca – Basic Physics and Probability & Statistics. MOOC2Degree, a program run by Academic Partnerships, said it would forge deals with its client universities (including the University of Arkansas system, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing, the University of West Florida, and Cleveland State, Florida International, Lamar, and Utah State Universities) to offer MOOCs for credit. MITx said that it would offer continuing education units for its “Mechanics ReView” series through a collaboration with the American Association of Physics Teachers.

      One of the highest profile “MOOC for credit” deals was that struck between Udacity, Georgia Tech, and AT&T to offer a computer science master’s degree. The degree will cost students less than $7000 (significantly cheaper than the MS that the university currently offers – cheaper in part because of the financial support for the program from AT&T). Early signs are that there’s a high demand for the online program (not surprisingly, higher than the applications for the more expensive, on-campus version.)

      But not all MOOCs for credit have been warmly received by students. Not a single student at Colorado State University-Global Campus signed up for MOOC-for-credit this year, for example. (Students there could pay $89 for a proctored exam, “compared with the $1,050 that Colorado State charges for a comparable three-credit course.”)

      Again, this is just one part of the equation that alternatives to the college credit must overcome – do students find them appealing? Will universities accept them and count them towards graduation? Will employers recognize them?

      Instead of Taking a College Class...

      Alternatives to taking a class for credit aren’t entirely new. For many students, one of the ways to accumulate college credit before even entering college has been to take the Advanced Placement exam (and score well, of course). Enrollment in AP classes has been skyrocketing in recent years, although as Politico’s Stephanie Simon reported, “the number of kids who bomb the AP exams is growing even more rapidly.”

      While there has been some pushback on the AP program (Dartmouth said this year that it would no longer accept AP credit), it’s still a widely accepted (and wildly profitable) offering. Indeed in a collision of my year-end trends: Davidson College, edX, and the College Board announced they were teaming up to design online lessons for the calculus, physics and macroeconomics AP courses.

      Competency-Based Education

      Similarly, competency-based education isn’t entirely new either. (Here’s a terrific primer by Michael Feldstein.) It’s the basis for the GED exam, for example, the test that high school dropouts can to take to demonstrate that they have, in fact, gained the skills of a high school graduate. (ACE partnered with Pearson a couple of years ago to create a new, harder, computer-based GED. This will roll out January 1, 2014.)

      And perhaps higher education would do well to learn from the successes and failures of the GED as it moves to embrace competency-based education. What exactly does it demonstrate? What do we mean by “competency”? How are the assessments created? What companies dominate the assessment business? How does this shape curriculum? How well is competency-based education accepted? Who benefits? Who’s marginalized?

      The Department of Education has been increasingly supportive of competency-based education. In March, the Department of Education issued guidelines for higher education institutions that offer competency-based programs to help them gauge whether they can move forward with offering federal student aid – a strong message from the administration that competency-based education programs “count.”

      The department also approved Southern New Hampshire University for eligibility for its self-paced online program College of America – “the first degree program to completely decouple from the credit hour.”

      In May, the for-profit Capella University received approval from its accreditor to offer a competency-based “FlexPath” BS in business and MBA degrees.

      The University of Wisconsin System began offering a new “flex” program that allows non-traditional students to obtain course credits through MOOCs, online classes, and assessment. It’s been given a green light from its governing accrediting agency too.

      Also accredited, Northern Arizona University’s competency-based online degree program called “Personalized Learning,” one that uses a subscription model for tuition. Degrees are available in Computer Information Technology, Liberal Arts, and Small Business Administration, at a cost of $2,500 per six-month term.

      Western Governors University helped a number of community college adopt competency-based degrees and certificates, thanks in part to funding from the Gates Foundation and the Department of Labor.

      Texas A&M University at Commerce and South Texas College said that they are working with Pearson to offer a competency-based degree in organizational leadership by next year.

      Alternative Credentials and The Law

      The pressure to accept competency-based degrees and MOOCs for credit doesn’t just come from the White House or the Department of Education or experimental schools or startups. Senators Christopher Murphy (D-CT) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) said they planned to introduce legislation to make it easier for “alternative models of higher education – such as competency-based education – to gain access to federal funding.”

      Florida governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill that would encourage schools in his state to use MOOCs for credit. Earlier versions of the bill would have allowed just about anyone to offer classes available for credit. The state is one of many working on $10,000 college degrees.

      California Assemblyman Dan Logue introduced a bill to create a pilot program for a $10,000 degree in his state. The bill didn’t go anywhere.

      But Senate Bill 520 did (although not all the way – it wasn’t passed into law). [The controversial bill](identify and approve a set of up to 50 online courses that the three public systems would accept as credit for admitted students), proposed by State Senator Darrell Steinberg, would have identified a set of 50 online classes that the state’s universities would have to accept for credit. These classes could have been offered by a number of organizations, not simply universities (that’s code for “MOOC providers,” who were closely identified with the legislation). The bill went through a number of iterations, all of which were vociferously opposed by faculty groups. One open letter read,

      First, limits on student access to the courses this bill targets are in large part the result of significant reductions in public state higher education funding, especially over the last six years. Second, the clear self-interest of for profit corporations in promoting the privatization of public higher education through this legislation is dismaying. In fact, UC’s graduation rates and time to degree performance show that access to courses for our students is not an acute issue as it may be in the other segments. Lastly, the faculty of the University of California, through the Academic Senate, approves courses for credit at the University and reviews courses offered for transfer credit to determine whether they cover the same material with equal rigor. There is no possibility that UC faculty will shirk its responsibility to our students by ceding authority over courses to any outside agency.

      Accreditation Fights

      One of the least-mentioned but most powerful systems that truly does govern the shape of higher education is the accreditation system, a peer review process of sorts where institutions assess and evaluate quality, usually without a lot of transparency in the process. (There are six regional accrediting bodies in the US, as well as numerous other national and professional ones.) And long story short: it’s all a bit of a mess.

      As Phil Hill wrote in a blog post this summer,

      "Why do I keep covering accreditation issues on e-Literate, a blog nominally about online learning and educational technology? The reason is that accrediting commissions have enormous influence on higher education institutions, particularly as the industry wrestles with questions of which changes are necessary, which changes are worth trying but might not work, and which changes should be avoided. If there really is a shift in the DOE’s views on accreditation or in the accrediting commissions’ interpretation of standards, then that could have fairly profound cascade effects on competency-based learning programs, private online colleges, MOOCs, and online service providers.

      That is also why the lack of transparency from the accrediting commissions is so troubling. They are making decisions that have profound effects on many institutions, not just the specific schools under review."

      There was a lot of accreditation news this year, well beyond the regular sighs of relief from admins that their schools were a-ok.

      The University of Phoenix found itself struggling to maintain its accreditation this year. In February, its accreditor recommended the university be placed on probation. In May, the accreditor went with a lesser sanction, putting the for-profit “on notice.”

      In July, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) announced that The City College of San Francisco “will lose its accreditation a year from now and its elected Board of Trustees will be stripped of decision-making powers.” It’s a huge blow to the country’s largest community college, one that serves over 85,000 students. The college has been struggling for some time with mismanagement. (In a turn of events, the Department of Education later notified the ACCJC that it was out of compliance in several issues relating to its CCSF sanctions.)

      Honolulu Community College also received a warning from the AACJC, in part as Phil Hill noted, because the schools had not evaluated the effectiveness of their online courses.

      The for-profit education startup Minerva, which plans to formally launch next year, made a number of key hires this year, including former Senator Bob Kerrey and Stanford admin Stephen Kosslyn. The startup partnered with the Keck Graduate Institute this year, an agreement which as The Chronicle of Higher Education notes, “gives Minerva a path to earning accreditation, which is one hurdle it has faced since introducing its plan for a new university last year.”

      Another startup, Altius Education, a startup that runs a program called Ivy Bridge College, announced suddenly in August that Tiffin University had been ordered by its accreditor to stop offering associate degrees through the program. Ivy Bridge College was meant to serve working adults and had won grants from the Gates Foundation. Its parent company Altius Education had raised over $26.6 million in investment. In other words, a storybook disruptor. Inside Higher Ed’s Paul Fain has an in-depth look at “what happened” – enough to prompt the Justice Department to open an investigation, that is. Needless to say, Altius sold its assets to Datamark in October and shut its doors.

      Not Making Any Predictions, But…

      While I try to stay away from making predictions about the new year, I’ll go out on a limb to say that that activity in and around this trend is grow in the years to come. That’s not to say that revisions to the accreditation process or acceptance of alternative credits are inevitable. Rather I believe we’ll find ourselves in the middle of lots of furious debates about what must change, why, how, and who benefits when things do or don’t.

      That last phrase seems worth repeating here in relation to all of this: who benefits. It’s the question we must ask again and again. There are already plenty of sharks in the higher ed waters – Trump University, which ran afoul of the law this year, for example, and Draper University of Heroes, which ran afoul of NY Magazine. Will changes to how we think about the college credit improve opportunities? Or is this just a new way to exploit students and to sell them an inferior education and worthless piece of parchment?

      Image credits: Terry Ross and The Noun Project


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      The Lure Of Gold

      Quite a busy week as everyone crams their year-end news into the final working days of the year…

      Education Politics

      This is how much your kid’s school budget has been cut.

      New Jersey governor Chris Christiesays he will sign legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants in New Jersey to be eligible for in-state college tuition.

      Teach for Americaaffirmed its support for the Common Core.

      Alabamajoins those states (16 in total) that allow computer science classes to count as math credit towards graduation.

      The Department of Educationannounced the winners of its $120 million Race to the Top-District competition. (Winners: Clarendon County School District Two (consortium of four rural districts), South Carolina; Clarksdale Municipal School District, Mississippi; Houston Independent School District, Texas; Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (consortium of 18 rural districts); and Springdale School District, Arkansas.)

      The Nation reports that “a small group of House Democrats, led by Representatives Rob Andrews of New Jersey and Alcee Hastings of Florida, are organizing an effort within the caucus to protect the for-profit career college industry from any meaningful regulation.” Not surprisingly, these two have received major campaign donations from for-profits.

      Oh and look! The “gainful employment” negotiations have hit an impasse.

      The Obama Administration is kicking off its “listening tour” as it prepares its proposal for a rating system for post-secondary institutions. More on the plans viaBloomberg Businessweek.

      A number of New York state senators are questioning the state’s plans to share student data with inBloom. More details via the GothamSchools blog.

      There’s also concern in Washington state about its plans to share data with media organizations. “KUOW obtained a copy of the two-year agreement between the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and The Seattle Times, signed last month, which authorizes eight Times journalists to work with, but not publish, confidential student and staff information, including names and Social Security numbers. However, OSPI says it will remove identifiable information, including names, from data it supplies under the agreement.”

      The Great LAUSD iPad Battle of 2013 Wages On...

      “Under pressure from an oversight panel, Los Angeles school officials have sharply reduced the number of iPads they say are needed to carry out new state standardized tests,” reports The LA Times. Because we all knew that tests were why kids were getting these devices, right?

      Launches and Upgrades

      Unglue.it, one of my picks for the best education startups of 2012, is pivoting – away from “ungluing” books (that is, making a digital copy available openly licensed and for free through a crowdfunding campaign) to a “Bookstore for Books that Want to be Free.” More details via its blog.

      Versal has added a new feature “Versal for Teams,” allowing groups to collaborate on online course building.

      UNESCO has launched an Open Access Repository“making more than 300 on-line books, reports, and articles freely available.”

      VentureBeat reports that Datawind will bring its low-cost tablets to the US, with the cheapest going for just $38. I’ll believe it when I see it.

      Davidson College has been awarded a Mellon Grant “to create a curricular model of digital studies that can be replicated by other small liberal arts college,” and as Jim Groom notes, one component is a “Domain of One’s Own”-like initiative.

      Boundlesshas settled its lawsuit with publishers who’d charged it with copyright infringement for building its free textbooks based on their table of contents. The terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed, so it’s hard to say if this is a win or a loss for OER. But it’s certainly a win for Boundless, which can move forward unencumbered by the lawsuit that’s plagued its whole startup existence.

      The tech blog VentureBeatis launching an education vertical, sponsored by a subsidiary of Apollo Education Group (parent company of the University of Phoenix). VentureBeat claims it is the “first major technology news organization to dedicate a channel to how technology is transforming the global education market” which is really a stretch (Chris Dawson ran one for ZDNet for a long time). But hey, with solid research into education history like this, you know the coverage is gonna be stellar!

      Downgrades

      Elsevier is continuing its efforts to demand authors remove their work from the Web, with takedown notes sent not just to Academia.edu (as I reported last week) and to individual scholars, but to universities as well.

      ISTE CEO Brian Lewis and CoSN CEO Keith Krueger announced the closure of the Ed Tech Action Network this week. The ETAN website will be turned off December 31.

      MOOCs

      San Jose State Universityissued an update this week about the courses it has developed with Udacity. This spring, it will offer 3 – Elementary Statistics, Introduction to Programming and General Psychology. “The SJSU instructors who originally developed the programming and psychology courses with Udacity will continue to teach these classes to SJSU and CSU students this spring. The statistics course will be transitioned to a different SJSU instructor in the same department. SJSU will hire and train teaching assistants as needed. All faculty members and students will use SJSU’s learning management system, Canvas.” From this, it looks like the relationship between the two has come to an end.

      According to a report by The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Steve Kolowich, edX had dropped its plans to serve as a recruitment tool, connecting students to employers. Of the 868 students recruited by edX for the program, “only three landed job interviews. None was hired.”

      President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has issued a report about MOOCs that reads like it was written last year (that is, without much reflection on any of these hiccups): “Although the new technologies introduced by MOOCs are still in their infancy, and many questions and challenges remain, we believe that they hold the possibility of transforming education at all levels by providing better metrics for educational outcomes, and better alignment of incentives for innovation in pedagogy.“ ”Let the markets work it out" is the message. Wheeee.

      “Saudi MOOC startup wants to ‘disrupt’ Arab education,” reads The Wall Street Journal headline. Sigh. (The startup is called Rwaq.)

      Jonathan Haber is reflecting on his “One Year BA” project – that is, taking as many MOOCs as possible into one year in order to fulfill the hypothetical degree requirements of a liberal arts college. Was it really the equivalent of a four year degree? Yes and no.

      Online Education, Elsewhere

      The American Bar Association has given the green light to the William Mitchell College of Law“for a part-time J.D. program that blends face-to-face instruction with online courses.”

      The National College Credit Recommendation Service has recommended six Saylor Foundation open courses for potential credit (based on successfully completing . The courses: Beginning Algebra, Business Law and Ethics , Business Statistics, Calculus 1, Corporate Communication, Introduction to Computer Science I, Introduction to Western Political Thought, Principles of Management, and Principles of Marketing.

      Funding and Acquisitions

      Knewton has raised $51 million in its latest round of funding, bringing the total raised by the adaptive learning company to $105 million.

      On the heels of a report last weekfrom the Institute of Education Sciences that “DreamBox Learning was found to have no discernible effects on mathematics achievement for elementary school students,” we learn that the company has raised another $14.5 million in funding. The round was led by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and brings the total raised by Dreambox Learning to $32.6 million.

      Koru, a Seattle-based startup that helps college students find jobs, has raised $4.35 million, reports GeekWire, in a Series A round with funding by Maveron, with Battery Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and First Round and others.

      Comcast and Khan Academy have struck a deal that, according to Fast Company, “includes millions in financial support, joint events, and PSAs that Comcast hopes will help raise awareness both of the thousands of free educational videos and exercises available through Khan Academy, as well as its own Internet Essentials program, which offers broadband access to poor families for $9.95 a month.”

      Apollo Education Group (parent company of the University of Phoenix) has acquiredOpen Colleges Australia, an Australian distance ed company. Because “open.”

      Graphite, an education app review site, has received $3 million from the Broad Foundation.

      Motion Math, maker of iOS math games, has received $300,000 in grants from the Noyce Foundation and the Gates Foundation to help it build “an educational learning A/B platform that will correlate mobile math learning experiences to assessment outcomes, engagement metrics, and teacher and school profiles.”

      The tutoring startup WyzAnt has raised $21.5 million from Accel Partners, says Edsurge.

      NewSchools Venture Fund has issued its year-end report on education funding. (Stay tuned for the last in my year-end series that covers the same topic, but not from a VC perspective.)

      From the HR Department

      David Wiley is resigning his position as a tenured faculty member at BYU in order to go all in on his OER startup Lumen Learning.

      Craigslist job listing: $40,000 a year to attend Harvard in someone’s place. $10,000 graduation bonus. Must earn a 4.0 GPA.

      University of Kansas journalism professor David Guth was suspended this fall for a tweet he made in response to the shooting at the Navy Yard. Pro-gun advocates were upset that the professor wasn’t actually fired. And now the Kansas Board of Regents has instituted a new policy that say employees can be sacked for “improper use of social media.” (“Improper use” includes that which “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers.”)

      Pay for college presidents continues to grow (and – here’s the Slate pitch, except it’s in The Atlantic – “that’s okay”). 42 presidents of private colleges were paid more than a million dollars in 2011, “up from 36 for the previous two years.”

      The Gates Foundation has its new head: Susan Desmond-Hellmann, formerly the chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco.

      Robert Lalanne has been namedUC Berkeley’s first vice chancellor for real estate.

      The Pittsburgh school board has voted to rescind a contract with Teach for America, meaning that “30 teachers from the national program will not be coming to fill positions in some of the hardest-to-staff schools in the district.”

      “Research” and Data

      Results from the Trial Urban District Assessment arrived this week. Arne Duncan asserted that the results “show student performance in large cities continues to both improve overall and that large-city schools nationwide are improving at a faster pace than the nation as a whole.” Bruce Baker gives the results – and the accompanying hype – some much needed scrutiny.

      Phil Hill takes a closer look at WCET’s Managing Online Education survey, the results of which were released this week. Here’s The Chronicle’s write-up. Lots of interesting data here, including this tidbit: “Only about one-third (30%) of institutions offer 24/7 technical support for students.”

      The Shanker Institute’s Matthew Di Carlo has published “The Year in Research on Market-Based Education Reform,” his annual look at what we learned this year about charter schools, value-added models, and so on.

      Students are bored in school, and Amanda Ripley is on it. She monitored Twitter for a list of their grievances. Another look at “bored at school” tweets is here.

      In the future, says IBM in one of those god-awful year-end prediction posts that end up just promoting someone’s financial or political agenda, “the classroom will learn you.”

      Harvard student Eldo Kim was arrested this week, after emailing a bomb threat to the university (ostensibly to avoid taking a final exam). Kim was identified thanks to metadata, despite his taking some steps to be anonymous.

      RIP

      RIP Charles Vest, former MIT president, who among his achievements while at the university’s helm was the creation of MIT OpenCourseware.

      Image credits: Alexander Boden and The Noun Project


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      The US government is open for business again. (Well, I doubt it ever really closed "for business," but you know what I mean.) The Supreme Court is weighing another affirmative action case. It looks like Blackboard co-founder Stephen Gilfus is getting back into the LMS game. Speaking of ridiculous games, NewSchools Venture Fund and Zynga are running an ed-tech accelerator program. Higher ed ed-tech folks are at Educause, but thank goodness, I am not.

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      In this week's education news, Coursera turns 2. Apple holds its fall press event. Chartbeat, an education news non-profit, launches. Rumor has it that NewSchools Venture Fund's CEO will join the Department of Education. LAUSD's iPad program continues to get more expensive. LAUSD's superintendent might just retire. Grambling State football players boycott a game. And soooo much more.

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      In this week's education news, MOOCs. Facebook and MOOCs. MOOCs and learning hubs. Bruno Latour teaches a MOOC. Penn State settles with 26 young men who were sexually abused by former football coach Jerry Sandusky. Another ed-tech accelerator program. And RIP Edna Krabappel.

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      Notes and slides from my keynote today at Open Education 2013. I shared the stage with David Kernohan, and we were tasked by David Wiley to offer a critique of open education. I talked about the narratives of doom, crisis, and the end-of-days that seem to permeate education and technology.

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      The last post in my year-end review of ed-tech. Top 10 Trends and so on. This one, as the headline suggests, covers "the business of ed-tech": all the funding rounds, acquisitions, IPOs, closures, pivots, departures, profits, losses, and drama drama drama. I have to say, covering ed-tech has taught me a lot more about venture capital than I'd ever wanted to know. I try to rein in the editorializing here, but I think you can tell, I find much of it pretty disappointing, pretty gross. I don't think it helps us learn, all this "disruptive innovation." It simply lines pockets. Anyway. Happy holidays, folks. And thanks, as always, for reading.

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    • 12/23/13--22:14: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013
    • The list of the trends I've chosen as "the top" in 2013. Data. MOOCs. Hardware. Politics. Standards. "Making." "Open." Credentialing. The business of ed-tech. What a year. (Much like previous years. So much for "disruption," eh?) Happy New Year, all.

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    • 12/24/13--11:26: Support Hack Education
    • Now that I've finished my year-end review of the most important ed-tech trends, it's time for my year-end reminder that Hack Education is advertising and venture-capital free. Please consider a donation. I am incredibly thankful for all those who've helped support this blog financially over the past year. And to everyone, thank you for reading. Here's looking forward to ed-tech rabble-rousing and truth-telling in 2014.

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      A quiet week with the Xmas holidays, but a few notable items particularly in the courts and not a goddamned thing about MOOCs. Woohoo! Victory. I should note here, for those that read Hack Education via an RSS reader: my lengthy year-end reviews caused me to exceed the file size for Feedburner. So I've had to truncate the RSS feed in order to bring the size down to compliance. I hate truncated feeds - they're so rude. So as soon as I can, I'll return the feed to its full glory. Until then, my apologies.

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      Choosing the top education startups is never an easy task. Since I've started composing a list of the best from a single year, I've always given myself these artificial constraints: it has to be a startup that was founded this year. It has to be a startup that's GOOD not just well-funded or well-publicized or over-hyped. This year, it was impossible to choose. Really. So I did something else instead. Here are some other ways that you can come up with "the top 10 ed-tech startups" other than having me try to identify ones that are actually doing meaningful, important work.

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